Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Solip:System Peripheral Echopraxis

I am being good and actually reading Economics now. But before I got back to it, I had a couple of novels that were burning a hole in my iPad, so I went on and read them.

1st a piece of bookkeeping. A couple of months ago, I read "Solip:System (Hardwired)" by Walter Jon Williams. This is set in the universe of "Hardwired", which was a great favorite when it came out in 1986. It is a short read, only $2.99 on Kobo, and fun cyberpunk. The story revolves around the notion of weaponizing the post-singularity tech that allows the up/downloading of consciousness.

The 1st of the 2 novels I just read was "Echopraxis", by Peter Watts. This is a loose sequel to his "Blindsight", which I thought was one of the best sci-fi novels I'd read in quite a while, blogged about here. The Jurassic Park'ed vampires and augmented humans are joined by zombie soldiers and group-mind idiot savants with redesigned brains. Mainline humanity gets a few more props in this book, rather than being relegated to the dustbin of history as we were at the end of "Blindsight". The main character is called a "roach" by the other characters, but it's a compliment:

roach isn't an insult. We're the ones still standing after the mammals built their nukes, we're the ones with the stripped-down OS's so damned simple they work under almost any circumstances. We're the god-damned Kalashnikovs of thinking meat.
The novel is a great read, very insightful into the nature of consciousness, although Watts claims that he had exhausted his thinking on that subject in "Blindsight". The book also has 140 references to cognitive and brain science research at the end. Man, you could probably spend a week easy following up on those.

I also just picked up a short work by Watts "The Colonel", providing backstory on one of the characters of "Echopraxis". Only $0.99, I guess that the eBook format makes it easy for authors to release these short add-ons, as opposed to releasing a full novel or short story collection.

The 2nd of the 2 novels I just read was "The Peripheral" by William Gibson. I have a fair amount of Gibson in paperback or hardcover, so I got this in hardcover. I am increasingly finding it hard to read non-eBooks. The fonts are usually smaller than I'd like. Plus I'm spoiled with being able to highlight a word and get its definition or google it. I love books, but ...

"The Peripheral" is quite a bit more sci-fi than Gibson's recent near-future Blue Ant trilogy: "Pattern Recognition", "Spook Country" and "Zero History". These are almost if not completely mainstream.

His latest has some nice, workable time travel, alternate universes foo. The "current" thread is set in a near future dystopia which is basically "Winter's Bone" + 20 years. (Man, hope they get Jennifer Lawrence to play the lead in the film version of this.) The pacing of the book is great. There are only 2 narrative threads in a 500 page book, and the chapters are mostly from 2-6 pages - I think the longest chapter is 8 pages. Gibson's prose is as terse and catchy as ever, and he does such a great job of having the story line continuously accelerate up to the rousing conclusion - just like "Neuromancer" 30 years ago.

"The Peripheral" is definitely some of Gibson's best work IMO. Joe Bob sez, check it out.

No comments: