It’s called a challenge for a reason

Book coverI’m not getting through the Five Book Challenge as quickly as my Christian-fictionally challenged team leader Robyn.

I have only read one book of my five science fiction/cyber punk books so far. I have some good excuses for my slow reading, namely “I’m a busy student who has to spend most of this winter curled up with academic text books and articles” but truthfully? Science fiction makes my brain hurt.

I always avoided science fiction because I assumed everything science fiction-y would be written in a flat, monotone voice. I was wrong. Sure, it may have taken me the whole 4 week loan period to finish William Gibson’s  Neuromancer (I’m normally a “put everything else on hold so I can finish this book in a day” kinda gal), but it is a literary masterpiece. Mr Gibson is a pretty awesome wordsmith. He uses words in ways they’ve never been used before, filling each page with sentences so clever you sometimes have to read them twice.

The problem is that I’m not sure I understood the story itself. I think the book is about this guy who’s a bit of a bad boy and gets caught up in some bad stuff until he is offered a chance to start over in exchange for his skills in all things computerish, and this new arrangement leads him on a mission to uncover who exactly he’s working for and why.

But really, I’m only guessing. Neuromancer is set in a world that seems familiar in a surreal kind of way. It’s disorienting – just when you think you’ve adjusted to this strange cyber punk environment, Gibson transports you somewhere even stranger. It kept me turning the pages though, because I was desperate to figure out what on earth is going on.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I got there. Upon coming to the end, I was left without the satisfactory “Aha!” moment when it all makes sense. Instead, all I thought as I closed the book was: “well, that was interesting”.

But perhaps I’m missing the point here. Maybe the beauty of science fiction is that it doesn’t have to make sense in any “real world” way, unlike most contemporary fiction I usually read. It’s another universe you’ll never quite understand, but that doesn’t matter so long as you enjoy the visit. So for my next book in the challenge – Overclocked by Cory Doctorow – I think I’ll change my approach. I’m going to have fun being a tourist and try to accept that sometimes I just won’t understand the locals.

The five book challenge is a challenging one, yes, but it’s an education too. Just as you can find some rotten eggs in every genre, you can also find some magnificent double-yolkers. Crack into those books, people!

10 thoughts on “It’s called a challenge for a reason

  1. Helen Lowe 10 June 2010 / 7:48 am

    Neuromancer is the book where William Gibson first pioneered the cyberpunk genre, and in many ways it is the least accessible of all his books (imo–still loved it anyway though.) I won’t say what I think it’s about, because that would be a big spoiler for others, but it definitely hooked me onto his work. But if you’re going for a different style, try Ursula Le Guin’s “The Left Hand of Darkness” or CJ Cherryh’s “Downbelow Station” (although Cherryh can be a little “dense” stylistically.) Or maybe Olaf Stapleton’s Babel-17.

  2. simone 10 June 2010 / 8:15 am

    For the fantastic writing without the hard-core science fiction try Gibson’s Spook Country. All the tech is fairly current (2007), if not exactly mainstream (yet). The chapters are extremely short, some resembling poems. I’m amazed that none of his books have been filmed yet, maybe when they get through all of Philip K. Dick’s.

    • Helen Lowe 10 June 2010 / 9:15 am


      I haven’t read Spook County yet and I must. But–secret confession–I was disappointed when Pattern Recognition lacked the scifi element. But power-of-words wise, there’s no question: the man rocks.

  3. bronnypop 10 June 2010 / 11:05 am

    I’ve been avoiding Gibson, but now that Oneder has bravely gone etc etc, I will just have to give him a go. I read a heap of sci-fi in my (distant) youth, but haven’t been back there for ages, and of course there wasn’t much at all in the way of cyberpunk when I was a teen. Cory Doctorow, though, I do love. His books are great, his personal philosophy and approach to life are also riveting, and I love the way he has fully embraced the whole post-Web thing in all its unintelligible glory. For a good introduction to his work try the 1984-inspired Little Brother, or some of the short story collections. I’m currently reading his latest book, Makers.

    • jane 10 June 2010 / 1:11 pm

      I’m going to give Little Brother a go Bronnypop. wish me luck!

  4. Sarah Hammond 11 June 2010 / 12:45 am

    Delighted to see someone dabbling in sf. It’s got such a bad reputation, preconceptions etc. I’ve read sf since being knee-high to a grasshopper so am always trying to persuade people to have a go. For those recalcitrant anti-sf readers though, I always chuck The Time-Traveler’s Wife at them. It IS sf!
    Well done for starting at the hardcore end of the spectrum though!

    • Helen Lowe 11 June 2010 / 9:45 am

      Or Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”–I know many people who have read and loved that even though they “don’t read SciFi.”

      And what about Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”–did anyway say “post apocolyptic”? Not that’s it’s what I’d call an easy read. But then, it is Cormac McCarthy.

    • Michael A 11 June 2010 / 2:19 pm

      Doris Lessing’s Shikasta (and a few that follow) are wonderful sci-fi but with an emotional depth unusual in the genre.

  5. Michael A 11 June 2010 / 9:17 am

    I loved Neuromancer and even had a computer gameversion of it at one time…and finished it (most unusual for me). He has written much of merit since and agree with the comments on Spook Country.

    BUT, for sheer fun and exuberance you should read Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (have I mentioned his name once or twice before) with a sassy young female protagonost, a cybernetic dog, mafia pizza…and listen to the Gorilla’s Plastic beach CD while you are reading.

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