Second Five Star Review for The Jovian Manifesto!

Second Five Star Review for The Jovian Manifesto!

My second review has come in! And this one comes from my friend and colleague Rami Ungar. While we are friends and fellow-writers, I can always count on him to be honest. I tell you, I owe this guy several reads and reviews at this point! In any case, here’s what he had to say (like I said, honest!):

Continue reading “Second Five Star Review for The Jovian Manifesto!”

Gibson’s Bridge Trilogy

Well, it finally happened. After many interruptions, thanks to other books that made it into my reading pile, I finally capped off Gibson’s Bridge Trilogy with All Tomorrow’s Parties. And as usual, Gibson’s combination of high-tech gadgets, low-tech environments, and an assorted crew of characters are all there in full force. And, interestingly enough, I also noticed some decidedly Gibsonian traits that appear in his other trilogies.

For one, there’s that tendency of his where he switches main characters between the first and second novel, then bring them all together again for the third. And then there is his ability to end a story abruptly and in a way that’s both confusing and a little short on explanations. As you might be able to guess, I had a few problems with this book, but none to write home about. Mainly, I thought it was a fitting and faithful ending to his second trilogy, chock-full of insights, ideas, and cool concepts.

Synopsis:
The novel takes its name from the song of the same name by Velvet Underground, which was apparently inspired by their contact with the Andy Warhol clique. The story opens in a Tokyo subway station, where the character of Colin Laney (the protagonist of Idoru) is now living in an improvised “cardboard city” with other misfits. Inside this assemblage of boxes, he spends all of his time online, following the exploits of a media baron known as Cody Harwood. Consistent with the effects of 5-SB, the drug that gives Laney his ability to discern patterns of information, he has become obsessed with this celebrity figure. However, he also sees that a nodal point is fast approaching, and that Harwood is at the center of it.

What this node is and what it entails, he cannot say exactly. All he knows for sure is it will change everything, and is set to go down in San Fransisco. To uncover the details of this , and perhaps stop it as well, he enlists help from the people of the Walled City – a virtual environment in cyberspace – Rei Toei (the Idoru), and Berry Rydell (the protagonist from Virtual Light). Meanwhile, Chevette Washington, the bike courier from Virtual Light, is also on her way to the bridge. Her new roommate, a film maker named Tessa, wants to go there so she can do a documentary on the people, how they live, and study the phenomena known as “interstitial places”. Pursued by her jealous ex-boyfriend, she agrees to accompany Tessa and show her around, and maybe reconnect with some of her fellow Bridge dwellers.

In time, and with the help of his hacker friends from the Walled City, Laney learns that Harwood has also taken 5-SB. He too has seen the nodal point approaching, and wants to shape its outcome to his liking. Although it not quite clear what its about, it seems to involve the Lucky Dragon franchise, and their incorporation or nano-assemblers in each of their outlets. In time, Rydell and Chevette arrive on the bridge, which is becoming a tourist attraction, and has a Lucky Dragon located just beyond it, with Rei Toei’s mobile projector. Several men show up and try to kill him, but he is helped unexpectedly by an assassin named Konrad – a man who is ostensibly in Harwood’s employ, but has chosen to switch sides.

After rescuing him from the first assassin, Rydell and Konrad run into Chevette at a club. She takes them her old friend Fontaine’s watch shop, where he and a young boy named Silencio – an apparent mute who is obsessed with researching watches –  take them in. When Harwood is informed that they are holed up and their assassins are dying off, he orders them to set fire to the bridge. Meanwhile, in cyberspace, Laney and his Walled City friends find him and confront him. He manages to escape into the folds, but Rei Toei comes to the little boy and tells him to find a special watch – a task which is in reality a trek to find where Harwood is hiding. They track him down, and he is neutralized.

Laney and Chevette narrowly escape to Skinner’s old hideout at the top of the bridge, where they kill the last of the assassins and wait out the fire. Rescue trucks and airships begin dousing the flames, just in time to save the bulk of the population. Meanwhile, Rei uploads her program to the Lucky Dragon’s database, and when the nanoassemblers go online, they produce endless copies of her! As the nodal point comes and passes, things have changed, though not in the way Harwood wanted, and in a small cardboard box in Tokyo, Laney is found dead by some of his old associates.

Good Points/Weak Points:
Much like its predecessors, this book advances the nanotechnology angle and brings it to an apparent conclusion. In book I, it was nanotech that was meant to be the means through which San Fransico was going to be rebuild after the Little Grande (aka. the Big One). It was also the means through which Tokyo was rebuild after said same earthquake. And many hints were dropped in Idoru that the character of Rei Toei, whose existence is strictly virtual, would be relying on it to manifest herself in reality. Alas, this finally seems to take place in this novel, where Rei uses the nanoassembly units in every Lucky Dragon around the world to produce copies of herself.

In addition, the concept of the nodal point is brought to its climax, where Laney and Harwood, both people who are sensitive to such things, are able to see one which will mean the end of the world. Not in the apocalyptic sense, merely that it will be the end of the world as they know it. From this description it is strongly implied that this will amount to a technological singularity, an event where advancement will speed up to the point where no one can predict the outcome. And given all the mentions of nanotech, it is entirely possible that it will be central to this transformation.

However, as I said earlier, this was not made clear. Much like with everything else at the end, explanations were lacking. What the big change-up involved, how Harwood planned to benefit, and how Silencio prevented that from happening… unclear! And Rei Toei’s involvement, her transformation and what purpose that served, also unclear. In essence, the climax just happens as describes, a few more short (really short) chapters tell what happened to all the characters once it was over, and the story ends. Little epilogue? Little conversation between the main characters explaining what they did and maybe what happened with Rei Toei? People learn the hero’s journey isn’t always an easy one?

Ah, I enjoyed reading it. Like all of Gibson’s work, it did a good job of contrasting high-tech and low, commercial applications and the streets use for them. The disparity of wealth and power also makes it in, as well as the average Joe’s ongoing attempts to subvert and resist it. In the end, Laney (the gifted social outcast), Rydell (the bewildered everyman), and Chevette (the streetwise survivor), all play a role in bringing down a major tycoon who’s only goal is to put himself at the center of the new order. Still, some indication of what that new order was and the meaning behind all his moves would have been nice!

And of course, the Walled City and Rei Toei make it back for their final appearances. Much like in Idoru, they are a shout out to the idea of artificial spaces, artificial constructs, and the line that separates them from that which is physically real. But rather than take a moralistic stance on the issue, Gibson’s approach was clearly towards the anthropological and sociological side of things. Mainly, he sought to show how humanity lives and adapts in an increasingly complex and changing world, and how the process is tied to the issue of control. Whereas everyone is effected by technological change and the social impact it has, it is clear that some are merely adapting whereas others have a degree of control over it.

And as with much of his other works, it is the disparity between the rich and the poor that is most central to Gibson. Whereas the rich occupy the top tier of society in his books, living on the cutting edge of development in comfortable, state of the art environments, the poor wait for development to trickle down to them and use it for their own purposes, meanwhile living in improvised environments made out of what’s available. In the middle, there are the “freelancers” who understand the conspiracies and agendas and do their best to expose them, hoping to do right by all the people who occupy the bottom rungs of society.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Bridge itself. Much as with the real life Walled City of Kowloon that inspired it, it all comes down to corporate interests who are trying to destroy, gentrify or commercialize it. Whereas in the first novel, the story revolved around a plot to gentrify San Fransisco through nanotechnology, in the third, those same interests try to demolish the Bridge itself because it is clearly beyond their control. It is only through the know-how and the sacrifice of those who see the larger agenda at work that it is saved, unlike the real Walled City (which was demolished between 1993/4).

It is little wonder then why this trilogy was seen as a sort of graduation for Gibson, moving from cyberpunk themed science-fiction to predictive social commentary. And while we might not be exactly where Gibson put us (2012 and we still don’t have nanomachines dammit!), the ideas he put forth  in this trilogy are still on our minds. These days, people are practically holding their breaths, waiting for the day when an artificial personality will finally be realized and machines small enough to manipulate matter at the atomic level can be built. And when that happens, we can still expect that the effects will be felt unequally. Some people will be living in seamless building made from carbon nanotubes and run by AI’s, others will be living shanty’s, making appliances out of spare parts. Or, to put it as Gibson once said “the future is here, it’s just not widely distributed yet.”

So long Walled City, you will be missed!

Rabbletown: Life in these United Christian States of Holy America, by Randy Attwood

Rabbletown: Life in these United Christian States of Holy America, by Randy Attwood

Hello and welcome to the first literary review I have had the honor of doing for a fellow author! On the docket for today, a sci-fi, near future dystopian work known as Rabbletown: Life in these United Christian States of Holy America, by Randy Attwood. Awhile back, this author and his work came to my attention by way of my writers group. Like many of us, Randy has been writing for many years, had an idea and manuscript that was just awaiting completion, and which he recently finished and made available as an ebook and paperback (see links below for info on where to find it).

Author Bio: Randy is a retired journalist, but also worked as the director of university relations for Kentucky University medical center and as the media relations officer for the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. He retired in 2010 and now dedicates himself to his writing. He has several titles to date, and Rabbletown is (far as I can tell) the flagship of his fleet.

Plot Synopsis: The story takes place in a dystopian future, circa 2084, where the US has become a fundamentalist state (as the name clearly implies). The how and why of this are explained in the preamble, where ongoing tension between the US and Middle East eventually turn nuclear and result in the full scale devastation of both. Whereas the United States bombs Iran and environs into oblivion using its ICBM’s, the various nation-states and terrorist organizations strike back using backpack nukes and dirty bombs until most US major cities are ruined.

What emerges is, predictably, a renewed Dark Ages where civil authorities are replaced by religious ones, the Evangelical movement becomes the dominant political force in America, and Jews, Muslims and Catholics are either suppressed or eradicated. The president of the US is known as the Pastor President, and all offices (governor, mayor, etc) are also required to take on the title of pastor before their rank. Each president is named in honor of famous Evangelists; the current president is Jerry Falwell V, his VP is Pat Robertson.

In addition to demonstrating their lineage from these current media figures, this is also a clear and delicious stab at the Christian Right and its political machinations! Other names of note include Cheney – a former member of the regime who is languishing in jail after an attempted coup – thus ensuring that the political right are also included in this indictment. What’s more, the civil authorities are known as Inquisitors, who are naturally the enforcers of religious law, extract confessions through torture and regularly stone those who sin.

Foreign policy is similarly medieval in this day and age. Whereas the US has become a Christian Republic, there is talk of the “Caliphate”, presumably a united Arab world, where Christian and Muslim soldiers fight for control of Jerusalem once again. It is hinted in the story that this “Crusade” is not real, merely a political tool that the Pastor Presidents use from time to time to drum up support. Still, the purpose of having it is clear. Whereas politics in the US are now dominated by religion, so to is their view of the world.

In any case, what follows is a story of how one town – Rabbletown, Kansas (a borough of Topeka) – is working to create the country’s greatest Cathedral in preparation for a visit from the Pastor President. The main characters, the Mason Bob Crowley, his wife Cheryl, Pastor Governor Jerry Johnson IV, Healer Elmer, Father Superior Robert, Friar Francis and Pastor Teacher Harold, give us a inside view of life in this future Kansas town, presenting it from various angles and providing exposition of how society works. Their particular POV’s are also important when a seminal development takes place, the appearance of a boy who has a knack for quoting Bible verses and seems somehow… “touched” by the Lord. This boy is none other than Bobby Crowley, the son of Mason Bob.

(Spoiler Alert!): The story begins to truly come together after a series of holy events takes place involving Bobby and a routine stoning. Everyone, from the President to the boy’s father, becomes swept up in a frenzy after news of it spreads, the authorities condemning it as the work of Satan while others proclaim the boy to be Christ reborn. Repression and division follow, with the so-called holy authorities becoming very much the enemy of those who appear chosen and righteous. Needless to say, the allegory is clear. In time, the division between the authorities and believers reaches (ahem!) Biblical proportions, in a scene that very much resembles that of Jerusalem during the time of Jesus.

Weaknesses: It is this last part which fell short for me. Given the background and nature of the story, one would get the impression that religion is being cast in a negative light, or at least that it is being mocked for its current excesses and abuses. However, the story also seems to be making the point that religion will be the source of salvation. While this would seem like a keen observation about the duality of faith – the line between salvation and condemnation being so fine – it also makes for an unbelievable ending. Whereas the question of Bobby’s holiness would have seemed best if left vague and metaphorical, there is no doubt about it in the story. Bobby is literally divine, his nature and purpose a force of righteous redemption.

There are some other weaknesses, such as the relevant facts being presented in a matter-of-fact way that leaves the reader feeling spoon fed. The dialogue also comes off as expository and forced at times, something you wouldn’t expect to hear from real people no matter how politically conscious they are. And the intro gives us a full dose of the background which leaves the reader feeling less inclined to read and discover for themselves what’s already happened, what has led the characters to their current situation. And the ending, well its a little predictable given all the Biblical allusions. However, these are hardly fatal and don’t really take away from the overall plot. Really, its just the ending that felt like it misfired.

Strengths: Overall, the story has all the elements of good satire: corruption, decay, selfishness and power mongering; with small, shining lights of redemption amidst it all. The bit about people’s daily lives and how they turn to their PPC’s (Personal Pastor Counselor) is also quite ingenious, predicting the emergence of an internet-based personal religious counseling. The mock history, particularly the part about the Catholic Accommodation was also a stroke a fine art (I shan’t describe, read it yourself!).

And above all, the mockery of the Evangelical movement and its political ambitions feels quite apt. For what can be said about people who seem to think that its a good idea to combine religion and politics, and have little to no qualms about condemning their “liberal” adversaries and all the “undesirables” of society? If they got their wish, would it really resemble anything other than Taliban-style medievalism?

Hence, I recommend Rabbtletown for those people looking for a dystopian read with a religious twist. It’s clever, fun, and a short read which will inspire thought. And, given some tweaking and a little expansion, it could even be a bestseller someday! Hey, you gotta have faith (ba pa ra pum pum!).