Friday, March 12, 2010

Neuromancer Finished; Lolly Willowes started

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

Neuromancer was excellent. It is so different from the older sci-fi that's dominated on the list so far. So unique in vision. So modern.

Relatively modern, of course. It was written in the early 1980s. But then, unless you exist on the cutting edge of literature, don't novels get a longer timeline than other media? It wasn't until 1999 that cyberpunk found a truly mainstream outlet, in the form of The Matrix. More on that later.

So what is this super-modern book about? Basically, it's a detective story. Anti-heroes search for answers, not because their lives will improve, not because the world will be changed by the answers. Only because the question drives them. Nothing spectactular in plot alone.

The world surrounding this plot, however, is everything, television-gray sky to mirror-eyed samurai to cyberspace-jacking cowboys. Of course, that pays tribute to the stunning description of this cyberpunk world, which went on to influence comic books, anime, and then mainstream films like The Matrix. But even more significant is the link between humans and technology, which are interdependent in a way never seen before. This novel defies the works of much older sci-fi, which happily describes science and technology as the path to a utopian future, but also defies the sci-fi writers just prior to cyberpunk, who endlessly warned against the dangers of technology.

Which always bothers me a bit, sci-fi writers who are Luddites. Ray Bradbury recently riled a few people up when the New York Times quoted him as saying "to hell with the internet," coming off more as a grumpy old man than a writer of fiction that, in its time, predicted technological breakthroughs (I was less surprised than members of the tech media who criticized his outburst - he was one of my favorite authors when I was a teenager, and therefore I knew that he also distrusts cars and refuses to drive). It just troubles me, people who dislike and even fear science, writing in science's genre.

Neuromancer rebels distinctly against the Luddite sci-fi, accepting an imperfect world of tech as an integral part of our future, even a part of our evolution. Tech is even treated with a sort of romanticism, never more clear than when Case jacks into cyberspace for the first time in the novel.

Besides that, it's fun to read. The book's style has been adapted in comics, anime, and live action film, and simply felt modern and fun and exciting. Early on, when I was trying to adjust to the language of the novel, The Matrix was practically a primer. The world of Neuromancer is very abstract, and it's a bit easier to imagine that world by thinking of The Matrix (and occasionally Tron). Later, when I'd adapted enough to Gibson's writing style to understand it on its own, some parts called up memories of The Matrix so clearly that I could imagine the gears turning in the heads of the Wachowski brothers. Don't get me wrong, the movie is not the novel. But the movie is so clearly inspired by the novel.

Which is probably for the best. This is one of those novels that simply couldn't be a movie, not in any way that is recognizable as the book. It does things that only a book really does well, that just wouldn't be the same on the screen.
The next book is Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner, which is about a woman making a deal with the devil and becoming a witch. This is one of a few novels that I'd never heard of before seeing this list. I had to order it. The library has one copy but it is lost. None of my local stores had it in stock. While waiting for it to ship I spent the week wandering around feeling antsy because I didn't have a book to read. I am very glad that it was delivered today.