I have seen the future…

Cover image of "The Psychic Tourist"…It’s 2033: Climate change has left half of the world’s cities underwater. Every so often a Black Wind blows in, suffocating anyone who crosses its path in a dense cloud of killer toxins. Our cellphones are no longer separate from our bodies; they have been implanted in our heads. Cars, buses, trains and planes can steer themselves. We have semblants (computer generated versions of ourselves) we can send to the office in our place if we don’t feel like working. Criminals are sent to the UnMinded Cellblock, where their brains are switched off and they serve their time as obedient zombies, ignorant to the passing years.

Or at least this is the future John Shirley has envisaged for us, in his novel Black Glass: The Lost Cyberpunk Novel. John Shirley is pals with William Gibson, the godfather of cyberpunk . You may remember me mentioning Mr Gibson a while ago, when I first embarked on my Five Book Challenge. I have to say though (please don’t sneer at me) I think I like John Shirley better. He reminds me of American crime writer Don Winslow. His writing style may not be quite as creative and literary as his fellow cyberpunker, but it is much easier to read, get absorbed in and be entertained by.

Black Glass captures what I am beginning to learn is the essence of good cyberpunk: a hero who is a bit rough around the edges but charming nonetheless; femme fatales who are not afraid to use their sex appeal and cunning to their advantage; narcissistic villains who you love to despise; and a bleak and dangerous environment where the reader gets swept up in the thrill of the chase . Basically it’s crime noir with a technological, futuristic twist.

So if  the future John Shirley has predicted includes robots, illegal and addictive virtual reality games, and spy cameras that hover in the air like flies, what kind of future do you predict? In the year 2033, what will the world look like?

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!