Mona Lisa Overdrive

Welcome back to the BAMA*! At long last, I’ve come to the end of William Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy. For those who don’t remember, this began with Neuromancer and Count Zero many months ago. I had hoped to include this third and final review in short order, unfortunately other books got in the way. And by other books, I mean a tall stack that I’ve been reading, reviewing, and putting down to make room for even more! I tell ya, being a sci-fi reader/writer/reviewer can really burn your brain somedays!

Luckily, I concluded the book just yesterday and am ready to comment on it at last. And let me begin by saying that it’s very interesting, having read every novel that Gibson has written up until this point, to look back and see how his writing began and evolved over the years. It is also interesting to see how certain thematic elements which would appear in later trilogies – i.e. The Bridge and Bigend trilogies- made their first appearances.

Elements common to cyberpunk, such as high-tech and low liing, were common to all three books in this series, but were also an intrinsic part of Virtual Light, Idoru and All Tomorrow’s Parties. The stark divide between rich and the poor and the transformative power of wealth, so important to the Bigend Trilogy, was also to be found in these earliest works. And of course, stories focusing on freelancers who find themselves in the employ of enigmatic figures, and the power plays that go on behind the scenes between various brokers, were present in all of his novels to date.

However, after completing this novel, I can honestly say that I felt let down. Prior to reading it, I was told that it was the greatest of the Sprawl Trilogy, and the reviews claimed that it was Gibson’s “most engrossing story to date”. I came away feeling that it was less than engrossing and definitely not the best of the three. For one, it seemed lacking in much of the cool elements that made Neuromancer and Count Zero so very fun and intriguing.

However, before I get into all that, I should summarize what this book is about. Here goes…

Plot Synopsis:
The story, much like all of Gibson’s works, contains multiple threads that are interrelated and come together in the end. In the first, we see a Japanese girl named Kumiko, the daughter of a Yakuza boss who has decided to send her to London in the midst of a war between the various crime families.Her only companion is a construct named Colin, a personality that inhabits a portable Maas-Neotek biochip.

Once there, she makes the acquaintance of a freelancer named Sally Shears (aka. Molly Millions) who has been hired out by her father’s people to keep her safe. In addition, Sally is being blackmailed by Swain, the head of the London mob, who has ordered her to kidnap the famous simstim star Angie Mitchell and replace her with the a body double.

In thread two, we meet the intended double, a 16-year old prostitute named Mona from Florida who travels to New York with  Eddie (her pimp) after he closes some lucrative deal. However, when they arrive, Eddie is killed and Mona is forced to undergo the surgery that will make her look exactly like Angie, whom she knows from all her simstim movies and admires greatly. Angie’s back story, about how she was the daughter of the man who invented biochips and placed bioenhancements in her brain (all of which takes place in Count Zero) is all recounted, as is her failed relationship to Bobby (aka. “The Count”).

In thread three, we learn that Angie has returned from rehab after developing an addiction to a designer drug her company was supplying. After a brief stay in Malibu, she learns that it was someone in her inner circle who was giving her the drug in the hopes that it would alter her brain chemistry, thereby disrupting her ability to access cyberspace and communicate with the AI’s now living there (the lao, or Voodoo god personas the AI’s had taken on).

In the fourth and final thread, we are introduced to three residents who live together in an abandoned factory located in “The Solitude”, an uninhabited area in the Sprawl. Gentry is the defacto owner of the place, a cyberspace jockey preoccupied with the way it has changed since events in Neuromancer where AI’s began to permeate it. Slick is his roommate, a robotics enthusiast who builds giant battledroids with the help of his friend redneck friend Bird.

Things for them become interesting when Slick’s associate, Kid Afrika, drops off a man who’s permanently jacked into cyberspace and asks them to take care of him. He leaves the man (Bobby Newmark) and a registered nurse (Cherry) with instructions to keep them safe. After examining the aleph (a biochip with immense capacity) that he’s plugged into, Gentry learns that it is an approximation of the whole data of the matrix.This is where he has been living for the past few years after breaking up with simstim star Angie Mitchell.

In the course of the story, we also learn that Lady 3Jane has died and now inhabits the aleph as a construct. At some point, Bobby stole the aleph and now inhabits it with her. After checking in with her jockey friend, Tick, in London, Molly learns that 3Jane is behind the plot to kidnap Angie Mitchell and replace her, and begins to work to unravel these plans. She travels to New York to meet with the Finn, himself a construct now, and learns that since her operation to Straylight, things have been changing drastically in cyberspace.

Now, 3Jane is looking for revenge, and Angie is intrinsic to that plot. After recruiting Swain and key members of Angie’s entourage to help her, she attempts to conduct the kidnapping while Angie is in New York. However, Molly intervenes and grabs Angie and Mona, who is being set up to replace her, and begins to travel to the Solitude. Angie, under the influence of the lao, is directed to Factory to reunite Angie with Bobby.

Meanwhile, Kumiko, who is alone in London, goes to find Tick and find out what’s going on. Ever since Molly left, she is advised by her Maas-Neotek construct Colin to seek refuge from Swain. When she finds him, she too learns about how cyberpsace is changing and how a massive data profile has entered into the matrix (which turns out to be the aleph). When they jack in, they are pulled into the aleph with 3Jane who attempts to hold them prisoner.

Things come together when Molly arrives in the Factory and Sense/Net mercenaries begin to show up to take Angie back. Meanwhile, in the aleph, Colin comes to their rescue by neutralizing 3Jane’s control over the construct. He also reveals 3Jane[‘s motivations. In the wake of her death, after a life of pettiness, greed and obsessive control, she has become jealous of Angie Mitchell and her abilities. Molly, since they know each other from the Straylight run, is pretty much on her shit list as well!

In the end, Angie Mitchell and Bobby die together, but not before their personalities come together in the aleph, to be forever joined by 3Jane and the Finn. Mona is picked up Kid Afrika who assumes that she’s Angie Mitchell, and is taken off to take over her starlet life. Molly takes the aleph and travels off into the distance while Slick and Cherry get together and head off to start a new life together. And finally, Gentry, who refused to leave Factory, stays behind to contemplate the matrix’s growing complexity.

Meanwhile, a final mystery is resolved. Inside the aleph, Angie, Colin and Bobby are picked up by the Finn who explains how and why the Matrix changed. After Neuromancer and Wintermute at the end of the first novel, the combined AI indicated that there was another like him, a construct similar to the Matrix in Alpha Centauri. Apparently, after he went there, he came back changed and divided into the lao, and the Matrix itself changed. Now, the Finn is taking them there, to meet the alien cyberspace and all the mysteries it holds…

Summary:
As I may have said already, this book was my least favorite of the Sprawl Trilogy. That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy it, mind you. But it was diminished in that Gibson’s usual dark, gritty, and decidedly cyberpunk style – which ranges from opulent to gothic in its appraisal of technology and its impact on society – seemed to be watered down by a much cleaner narrative. In the end, it felt more like reading from the Bigend Trilogy, in that the settings and feel were quite similar.

Aside from taking place largely in London and New York, there was also a lot of buildup and not much in the way of action. And of course, the diversions into the fields of fashion, mass media and the cult of personality; these too felt like they would have been much more at home in the Bigend Trilogy. That was the trilogy that dealt with all these elements, whereas the Sprawl was all about the nitty-gritty, about cool gadgets, mercenaries, cyber-ninjas, deck jockeys, corporate bad guys, high-tech and low-life.

To top it all off, the ending felt quite abortive. Gibson is somewhat notorious for this, but whereas Neuromancer and Count Zero contained plenty of gun-toting and cyberspace runs, this book kept all the action til the very end. And at that point, it was complicated by a rather odd narrative structure and some pretty weak explanations. After learning that 3Jane was pulling all the strings and determined to wreak revenge, it seemed weak that it was all for the sake of punishing Angie out of jealousy.

If anything, I thought her motivations had to do with the Straylight run. That after fifteen years of waiting and plotting, she finally found Molly and decided to kill her and anyone else involved in changing the Matrix. To know that it was motivated by her jealousy of Angie’s abilities just rang hollow. In addition, I thought the usual motivations, like how the wealthy are constantly trying to cheat death, might have been a fitting motivation. I seriously thought at one point that her true intentions were to find herself a vessel, and Angie Mitchell proved to be the perfect choice due to the veves in her hand. Through these, 3Jane could simply download herself, provided she had her in custody and hooked up to the aleph… or something.

However, there was plenty of interest in between all that. While many chapters kind of dragged for me, I did enjoy the scenes where the history of the Tessier-Ashpool clan were reconstructed. The revelation about the Alpha Centauri matrix, which was only hinted at at the very end of the Neuromancer was also very cool. And the detailing of the lao and the evolution of the Matrix since Wintermute and Neuromancer came together, that too was interesting. In the end, I just wished there had been more of this.

And given that this novel did wrap up the previous two novels and brought closure to the whole Sprawl trilogy, I would highly recommend it. Regardless of whether or not it was the best or weakest of the three books, it is the final chapter and contains many important explanations and resolutions, without which the series would never be complete. On top of all that, it is hardly a weak read, and I know for a fact that many people consider it to be better than the others. So who am I to stand in anyone’s way of reading it?

Kudos to you William Gibson. I have now read every novel you wrote. I now move on to Burning Chrome and Johnny Mnemonic, plus any other bits of short fiction and thoughtful essays I can get my hands on. Despite all the little things I have come to criticize about your work, you remain one of the best and most important writers in this reader’s bookshelf! And if I really didn’t like you, why the hell do I model so much of my work on your prose? Like Aeschylus said of Homer, any work of mine dealing in cyberpunk and high-tech is pretty much the crumbs from your table!

Good day and happy reading folks!

The Future is Here: Tupac and the Magic Hologram

Somewhere in Vancouver, William Gibson must be smiling smugly to himself. Less than an hour ago, yours truly – usually the last to hear about recent events in pop culture – was made aware that Tupac, through the magic of a holographic projector, made a comeback appearance at Coachella. This, naturally, triggered a massive reaction on twitter and just about every other form of social media. One can expect that this will add a whole lot of impetus to the conspiracy theory that states that Tupac is still alive and releasing albums that contain clues that he faked his death. In fact, there are already sites going up that are claiming that this act wasn’t an act. But for the most part, no one was fooled.

Not that they were meant to be. The hologram, despite the advanced technology behind it and the obvious skills of the technicians, looked very much like a hologram.

From the side, it looked 2-dimensional, was pretty translucent, and when it moved, the feet seemed to disappear for a few seconds at a time. But what was astounding was just how interactive the hologram was. Performing alongside headliners Dr. Dre, Eminem and Snoop Dogg, the hologram not only performed some of Tupac’s greatest hits with these veteran rappers, it also interacted with the crowd and seemed to be saying things that weren’t taken from old footage. This would imply that the hologram was not simply a recording, but a dynamic thing that the techs had programmed to act like the real-life version. Pretty cool huh?

Of course, I mention William Gibson because it was he who predicted this sort of thing. In his 1996 post-cyberpunk novel Idoru, Gibson wrote about the growing popularity of digital personalities in Japan. Apparently, they have many renditions of the Tupac hologram there, virtual beings who sing, dance, and even go on tour – which is apparently what the Tupac hologram will doing in the near future! But Gibson’s novel went beyond by dealing with a hologram that had achieved sentience. Due to advances in the realm of AI, the Idoru had developed a mind of its own, and was therefore looking for a normal life.

This sort of thing is often explored in science fiction, the line between artifice and real, but usually in the form or robots or cyborgs. But this takes it to a whole new level! Let’s face it, there’s something inherently eerie about holograms isn’t there? Beings of light with no physical presence, they appear as angels or ghosts, which is surely what the techs at Coachella were going for. If they can become real, in the sense that they have independent thoughts and actions, well… who knows? The line won’t be blurred, it will disappear entirely!

Update: Just about every piece of footage from the concert has been pulled due to copyright issues. But here’s a clip from Jimmy Kimmel live where they show a clip or two:

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!

Idoru!

The second installment in William Gibson’s “The Bridge” Trilogy. Looking back, I don’t feel like I did the first book justice with the rather short review I gave it. Not to say that my overall opinion of the book has changed, but I feel like there were elements and angles that I should have delved into a little more. But since this book took place within the same general framework as the first, I shall rectify that here! So much better than re-editing old posts, don’t you think?

Idoru:
What can I say about Gibson’s second “Bridge” novel? Well, for starters, I liked it! It was much more developed and intriguing than the first, to be honest. While Virtual Light was concerned with the sense of post-millennial shock, the disintegration of California and the US and the massive privatization thereof – calling to mind other books by Gibson and Stephenson’s Snow CrashIdoru dealt mainly with the concept of celebrity and the nature of modern media. Although it is set just a few years after the events in the first novel, far less attention is given this time around to either the Pacific west coast or Japan’s experience of the big earthquake. It’s still there, just operating in the background and popping up on occasion to set the scene.

In addition, Kowloon’s Walled City makes an even bigger appearance this time around. In the first book, it is listed as the inspiration for The Bridge – aka. the Golden Gate Bridge that has become a community unto itself. This time though, it has matured into a cyberspace VR construct where people port in and live out their lives in a virtual environment. Like the original Walled City, it is a place for hackers, Otaku, and cyberpunks, people who live on the fringes of society in this day in age. In keeping with all of Gibson’s pre-Bigend novels, this is indicative of the disappearance of the middle class and the emergence of cyber communities as a form of resistance. This tribalistic behavior, taken into the digital realm, is not so much political as it is cultural.

This is best exemplified by the character Chia Pet McKenzie, a teenager who also happens to be a member of the Lo/Rez fan club. Lo/Rez is a Japanese band, a clever pun on Low-res (i.e. low resolution), and the fan site is an international community that communicates via cyberspace. The concept of “nodal points” is also introduced via the character of Laney, a man who is apparently adept at finding these nodes in information patterns. After leaving a company named SlitScan, a media giant renowned for ruining celebrities by exposing their secrets, he is hired because his unique abilities make him useful to anyone looking to find these patterns. These two characters and the plot strands that involve them come together when Rez, half of Lo/Rez, announces he wants to marry Rei Toei, the Idoru (Japanese for Idol). The Idoru is a virtual creation, a holographic person, who is apparently achieved a measure of sentience. Laney is hired to find out, via Lo/Rez’s info, why he could be doing this and/or if anyone is manipulating him (like the Idoru’s people). Chia is similarly flown to Japan to determine the cause of this as well, but on behalf of the fan club. In any case, the two finally find a way to consummate their union by obtaining nanotechnology, apparently so they can fashion her a physical body. This, however, is left open, we never see if they pulled it off or not.

All of this calls to mind several familiar Gibson themes. For starters, the concept of data mining, which makes an appearance in many of his novels. According to Gibson, the character of Laney is a fictitious rendering of himself, his ability being a metaphor for what Gibson dose on a regular basis in order to predict the future. This seems clear enough given that the theme has come up again and again in Gibson’s works (Cayce Pollard, another main character, did much the same thing in Pattern Recognition). Also, there is the concept of AI’s, digital sentience, and the increasingly blurred line between artificial and authentic. In addition, the influence of the mass media, the culture of celebrity, and the massive influence these two things plays on our society is featured throughout this book. In short, it asks the question of why people are obsessed with celebrities, want to be them, what it takes to be one, and why we want to ruin them so badly! It is also quite Warholian in how it addresses how fame has changed over time and how it is the industry that seems to determine who is famous, why, and for how long.

Selling Points:
Overall, I could see why this book was hailed as the book that cemented Gibson’s reputation. There’s a lot going on in this book! One can see many layers of technological, cultural and social commentary, punctuated as always by Gibson’s love of sub-culture, street life, and cutting edge things. In fact, this book was quite influential in the way it predicted virtual personalities, which is something that became quite big in Japan on or around the time of the book’s publication. It was also rather prescient in the way it delved into the kinds of tribalism that have become incredibly common with the internet. On top of all that, his delving into the world of media, celebrity and the dividing line between what is real and fake (exemplified by the marriage of Rei Toei) was executed with his usual subtle genius. That was one of the things I liked best about this novel. At no point was someone saying “You can’t marry a program! It’s immoral, unnatural!” Nor was anyone arguing in favor of it by saying “Look at the world today! There IS no line between real and fake anymore!” Everyone was concerned, most people thought he’d either lost his mind or was being manipulated, but no one came right out and ANNOUNCED it. This is something that people like the makers of S1mOne, who were clearly imitating Gibson, did do (just look at that title! What an obvious binary reference!).

Weak Points:
For one, the open ending. That applied to more than just whether or not Rez and Rei Toei ever achieved a physical union. That much I could understand given that it was the idea of it that was important, the exploration of whether or not it would ever be possible for a human and digital person to cross that boundary. But it also applied to other aspects of the story as well. For one, Laney’s ex-boss shows up deep into the story to blackmail him, and she is apparently disappeared by Lo/Rez’s head of security. We never find out if he really did anything to her or if he just scared her off. The plot thread involving her just disappears like it had become inconvenient and Gibson wanted to get rid of it. Perhaps it comes up in book three, but here, it was like a final act cut-off. This is something this book has in common with Stephenson too, ironically enough; the quick, choppy endings!

And of course, some familiar old patterns also emerge in this book and have become apparent in this trilogy as well. The first pattern is one I’ve seen in every Gibson book I’ve read yet: having one man and one woman as main characters and either hooking them up, or pairing them off with secondary characters. Some examples include Chase and Molly in Neuromancer (who hooked up with each other), Hollis and Milgrim in Zero History (who had separate hook-ups), Chevette and Rydel in Virtual Light (together), and now Laney and Chia (separate). Mind you, I’m not calling this a weakness. In fact, most people would call it a convention; interesting stories need some degree of romance to keep them from being totally dry! But it does seem just the slightest bit repetitive this time around. He also switches main characters in the second book in this trilogy, which he did with the Bigend Trilogy too, but not the Sprawl one for some reason.

Overall, a good book and a fun, fascinating read. I definitely recommend it for anyone interested in classic sci-fi or who, like me, is interesting in charting the course of cyber/post-cyberpunk literature. You see? This is the kind of treatment Virtual Light should have gotten! I’ll be sure to be this thorough from now on!

Back to reviewing books!

Boy, its been awhile! It seems like so long ago I was reviewing “Virtual Light” and looking forward to doing the rest of the “Bridge Trilogy”. Well, I didn’t forget. In truth I was just about finished reading Idoru – the second book in the trilogy – but then I decided to leave it in Red Deer for some reason. I managed to get a new copy, but then, wouldn’t you know it, I bought the box set of A Song of Fire and Ice and then started reviewing someone else’s book for them too! Somedays, I tell you, I think I might have literary ADHD! So, given my obvious need for structure, I thought I might make a list of all the books I intend to read and review in the coming weeks and try to stick to it for once!

For starters, there’s Idoru, which I’m just finishing but need some time to digest. Not only is this an important book in Gibson’s “Bridge Trilogy”, it is apparently what cemented his fame as an author after Neuromancer so I wanna take my time with it. But I will say that as far as first impressions go, I can see what the critics meant when they said this. Whereas Gibson’s earlier books tended to deal with cyberspace and the dark underbelly of society in the information age, this one tackled the vagaries of celebrity and media in said same era.

A follow-up with All Tomorrow’s Parties will then be necessary to complete the trilogy, and because I already bought the book. Thank you Amazon for your slow but reliable delivery system! Then, I shall turn to my pile of Kindle books since I’ve been scooping them up ever since my friend from Red Deer (hey Chi!) bought me this iPad! I tell ya, the thing is not the best typing implement, but man is it good for reading! I actually get more done on it than with a conventional book, may the God of paperbacks forgive me (blessed be his cellulose appendages)!

Speaking of which, that would be where A Song of Fire and Ice by George R.R. Martin (“the American Tolkien”) comes in. After getting hooked like crack on the HBO miniseries of “A Game of Thrones” which covers the events in the first novel, I got myself the box set for my Kindle app. Well, truth be told, I bought the second book and THEN bought the box set on Kindle. Quite looking at me like I’m drugs, it was a deal I tell ya! And yes, I was hoping to buy them individually, but three books in paperback or all four on Kindle for roughly the same price, before the added cost of shipping and handling? You do the math! Besides, duplicates don’t really count if they’re not taking up space on a shelf, right?

However, all those must wait until I finish reading and reviewing a book by a fellow self-pub ebook author who goes by the name of Randy Attwood. His book Rabbletown: Life in These United Christian States of Holy America is an interesting look at fundamentalism in America and a new dark ages. This authors book came to my attention by way of my writers group, The Herscher Project, a few weeks back and I agreed to take his book on and give it its due. Look for my review in the coming days! I should also take this opportunity to mention that this same group will be putting out an anthology shortly, a collection of the group’s dystopian narratives from over the years. Look for it in ebook format when it comes out, and pay close attention to a little story called “Domicile 4.5”. I’ll give ya a hint, it’s by me 😉

Of Plot Holes and Oversights…

Hello again. Today I thought I’d break with the norm and do another “best of” post. Thing is, this time around I didn’t want to do one dedicated to “best lines” or anything like that. No, today I thought I’d tackle some of the worst moments in movie history. And if there’s one thing I’ve noticed plenty of in my collection of bad reviews, it’s plot holes! Those rare moments that make you stop and say “Uh… what?” Or the kind that make you want to reach out, grab the director by the ears and say “That makes no f@!%@%$ sense! What the hell were you thinking?” Not literally, of course. That’d be creepy, Kathy Bates in Misery creepy.

So, with that in mind, and inspired by all the moments that have made me – and I’m sure others – want to pull out my hair, here’s a list of some of the worst plot holes and oversights I have ever seen. Yep, its a veritable “best of the worst”! And who knows? This might just become a regular thing. There’s certainly no shortage of material. And on the chopping block for today: Independence Day, Terminator: Salvation!, and Equilibrium!

Independence Day:
As far as plots go, this movie was a doozy. In fact, it was lot more enjoyable if you checked your brain at the door and didn’t ask too many questions. But, inevitably, at some point you had to pick your brain up, reinstall it, and deal with all the logical inconsistencies it was sure to raise. Here were the one’s that came to my mind:

The Signal: Remember how Jeff Goldblum, a cable man, picked up on that alien signal, the binary code that was being transmitted using Earth’s satellites? Remember how NO ONE ELSE noticed the same thing? That’s right, the guy who installs your HBO noticed something that all the cryptologist and covert brains at the CIA, NSA, and NASA did not. But of course, Director/Writer Roland Emmerich had that one covered. Apparently, the signal was “subtle!”

Backdraft: This is a minor point, but it was still insulting! During the aliens’ assault on LA, Vivica A Fox, her son, and their dog Boomer were all trapped in a freeway tunnel. Whereas most people were consumed by the fire, they survived by hiding in a workman’s shed. Only problem with this is, the fireball went right by the open doorway and left them untouched. Funny, I always thought fire expanded to fill empty spaces. Forgot about the shed exception!

Small World: Remember how Will Smith managed to fly a commandeered helicopter into LA after the aliens leveled it to retrieve Vivica A Fox and her son? Yeah, how did he find them exactly? And what the hell happened to all those alien ships that were shooting down anything that flew? More importantly, how did Vivica A Fox manage to find the First Lady and the downed White House helicopter? Come to think of it, this movie was full of these kind of unlikely reunions! Why, for example, did Will Smith decide to wander to Area 51, hundreds of miles away from his airbase and where he got shot down? Was it just because the president and several other main characters happened to be there? And how is it that the big caravan of mobile homes, with Quaid and his family in it, manage to meet up with him in the middle of the desert? How small is LA? Or the Nevada Desert for that matter?

The Plan: Remember how Goldblum came up with the big world-saving plan towards the end? The one that involved planting a computer virus in the mother ship, yadda yadda yadda… Yeah, how did he manage to figure out how to crack the alien’s technology? We’re talking about a race with vastly superior technology. So not only was a cable man able to detect an alien signal that the best minds at NASA, the CIA and NSA could not, he was also the only one who could figure out how to bring them down. Oh yeah, and how does Will Smith know how to fly an alien ship? He saw one in combat… I’ve seen fighter jets in combat, does that mean I can fly one of those? I’d like to think so! Emmerich raised the holes in this one too, but he dismissed them by putting them in the mouth of a douche bag character who we weren’t likely to listen to! Seriously, by the time he was done bitching about the logical inconsistencies of this plan, we were ALL hoping he’d be fired. And then he was… yay!

The Mother Ships: Remember those big alien ships that had shields that could withstand nukes? Remember how when they went down, the US airforce started ripping one to shit with their missiles? Same with the alien fighters, they blew right up when hit with mere bullets. Seems odd… you’d think solid metal hulls that are capable of withstanding the intense pressure and heat of space flight and atmospheric entry would be able to withstand bullets and air to air missiles. Granted they DID say they weren’t doing ENOUGH damage, but the fact that they were doing much at all was a bit of a surprise. But that wasn’t nearly as odd as the stunt Randy Quaid pulled. Remember how the big alien ships had those big alien ray guns, the ones that could level entire cities? Yeah, turns out that if you fly a single jet into the barrel of one, the entire ship will explode… How the hell does that work?! Does putting your finger in the barrel of a gun make the gun explode? No, it makes your finger explode as the bullet rips through it and anything else in the way! And this was with a freaking city-leveling laser! In short, Randy Quaid’s plane should have exploded harmlessly beneath the gun, not blown the whole ship up! But that would have been way less heroic… Funnier, but less heroic.

Man that was a stupid movie! Fun, but stupid!

Terminator: Salvation:
Here was a movie that started off good but got real messed up towards the end! Yep, as soon as they dropped the hammer and revealed everything, you got to see how little sense this sequel really made. I tell ya, it had so many holes, you’d think a Terminator took a gatling gun to it!

The List: So the machines made a hit list in this movie with Kyle Reese’s name at the top and Conner’s not far behind, right? And they also created a man-machine hybrid in the form of Marcus, right? And their plot all along was to have him help them kill Reese and Conner so they would win the war, right? Right! So… why the hell didn’t he just kill them? What was the point of delivering Reese and Conner into their lair if the goal was to kill them all along? That’s like the long-movie equivalent of a villain putting James Bond into some complicated death machine instead of just shooting him! It’s like, if you want him dead, why put him in a situation he can actually get out of? You’re life not challenging enough as it is? Especially with Reese, Marcus had him at gunpoint twice within the first thirty minutes! First time when he stole his shotgun, second time when he was showing him how to hold said shotgun. Boom! Movie’s done! But instead, we get a big convoluted plot where they end up being captured, apparently thanks to Marcus, when it seemed like all he was doing from the beginning was try to help them!

“That was our plan all along!”: Marcus spent the first portion of the movie wandering from the desert to the ruins of LA. There, he met (totally by coincidence) Kyle Reese. Reese and his little friend were captured IN SPITE of Marcus’ efforts to protect them, not because of them. Marcus then found John Conner (again, purely by coincidence), and convinced him to let him go to Skynet’s base so he could save them. John then went to that base to save Reese as well because the resistance was planning on attacking it. So really… how was Skynet orchestrating all this from the beginning? Seems to me that everything that happened up until this point was well beyond its control. Contrived? Hell yes! But saying that this all be part of some master plan doesn’t make it any less so. If anything, it’s just a weak-ass attempt at justifying these contrivances by tying them all together.

The Future: How did Skynet know that Conner would somehow come to defeat it? How did it know that Reese was his father? Finally, how his did it know that it had failed repeatedly to “get John Conner” in the past? The only way Skynet could have known how the future would work out is if someone told it, just like how Conner knew about the future because his mother told him (and she was told by Kyle Reese). In short, someone who has actually been there needs to come back and tell you. And that bits ruled out by the fact that all three Terminators that came from the future were destroyed. So really, how does Skynet know a thing about this whole temporal thing? It got a crystal ball, some kind of device that can see the future? Nuh-uh!

Chip in the neck: If Skynet wanted to control Marcus, which apparently they were doing all along (though he didn’t know it and it really didn’t seem like they were), why do it through a chip he could easily remove? Why put the damn chip in his neck? Why not his brain? Just like with the whole delivering Reese and Conner to them, this seemed like an easily fixable situation. Rip, rip! Problem solved! Remember how Skynet said to Marcus, “You cannot save John Conner”? Well… yeah, actually he could! And thanks to Skynet’s stupid, convoluted planning, that was exactly what he did!

The Machine HQ: Did you notice how at the end of the movie, the Resistance people just show up and pull Conner, Reese and Marcus out of the base? Didn’t that seem remarkably easy? What about those gun towers and other defenses we just saw? What happened to those? Were they just for show? And if it was this easy, why couldn’t they have done it way back when and shaved a couple years off the war?

Temporal Paradox thingy: We know from the first and second movie that Conner exists because Reese went back in time and had sex his mother. We also know that he didn’t go back in time until after they broke into the machine HQ, presumably in 2029, destroyed Skynet and discovered the time machine. But in this alternate future, where Judgement Day happened later and the Resistance destroyed Skynet sooner (2018), there was no time travel to speak of. Sure they shamelessly and senselessly said that the war was still on because Skynet’s “global network” was still out there, but if Skynet is gone before it built its time machine, wouldn’t that mean that no time travel ever took place, and John Conner therefore wouldn’t exist? Think about it! Conner exists because Reese had sex with his mom, but if Skynet was destroyed 11 years before he was supposed to go back in time, then it would never have built the time machine, Reese would never have gone back, and Sarah Conner would never have gotten pregnant with him. Come to think of it, the same holds true of the Terminators and even Judgement Day! No time machine, no Terminators going back, no basis for Skynet’s creation… Whoa! I just went cross-eyed!

Wow, that’s a lot of holes. Am I being too harsh? I mean, I wanted to like this movie. Really, I did! But it made it just so damned hard!

Equilibrium:
Worst for last! This movie had holes so big a truck could pass through them! Seriously, by the end, you were taking stock of them all and realizing that they essentially rendered the entire premise moot. Where to begin…

Cleric Extraordinaire: So the movie starts with us being told that Bale’s character is like the prodigal son of Grammaton Clerics (not too subtle reference to the movie’s religious tone here!). Way he puts it, he’s always been able to get inside “sense offenders” (sex offenders!) heads and know how they think. And yet, this guy not only failed to notice his wife was an offender, but his children too! Turns out, she was loving him in secret for years, and the kids stopped taking their Prozium after she was hauled off to be incinerated. So really, that means he was living in a house full of offenders for years and didn’t even notice! If he’s the best they got its little wonder why they lost to the Underground!

“Don’t lie to me!”: There are countless examples of people who are supposed to be emotionless showing emotion in this movie. Taye Diggs does much of that with his constant smiling, but by far the worst was Angus MacFadyen’s huge outburst. Seriously, how did Bale’s character not notice that? I know, truth was he was never taking his Prozium, but that’s not supposed to be common knowledge. You’d think he’d be a bit more subtle than to slam his fist down on a table and yell at someone. Especially a man who is specially trained to seek out and kill the kinds of people who do that. But then again, this is the same guy who didn’t notice that his wife and kids were offenders, and they were doing it for years. Yeah, he’s safe!

Gun Switch: Ah, yes! The scene where Bale switches guns with Diggs, and then frames him for the murder he already committed by using his gun to do it. Wait, what? Yeah, that’s how it played out in the movie. Bale framed Diggs for the murder of several officers of the state by (apparently) using his gun to do it. Problem is, he didn’t swap guns with him until AFTER the event. Only way this would make sense was if he already switched them, committed the murders, and was just giving him his own weapon back at this point. That would have worked just fine. All that would be needed is an added scene or a flashback showing Bale how stole his gun beforehand. The other way, the way it happened in the movie, makes no damned sense! Sloppy stuff like that makes the audience think someone in the editing booth was either asleep at the wheel or high! Maybe they had the right idea!

“We planned this”: By the end, Bale is about to meet “The Father”, but realizes he’s been had. Turns out, his nemesis Diggs is alive, his whole mission to find the Underground was a ruse, and he himself was selected because apparently they thought he was a latent sense offender and just hadn’t realized it yet. Uh… how did they know this exactly? I mean yes, he did BECOME a sense offender, but that was the result of an accident! He somehow forgot to stock up on Prozium, broke his last vial, and the damn pharmacy was closed! That’s how it all began, the result of an unlikely, totally implausible accident. So really, how could they have foreseen this and planned it all out? Man, its just like what Terminator: Salvation did, except Wimmer did it sooner! Note to all writers and directors out there, DON’T IMITATE KURT WIMMER! I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but his movies aren’t exactly getting nominated for most original screenplay!

“I Feel!”: By the very end, we learn that MacFadyen, the true leader of Libria, is himself a sense offender. Makes sense in a “we ripped off” 1984 kind of way, the leaders are hypocrites who don’t follow their own rules. But really, this means that the head of this dystopian state has been breaking the rules all along and no one seemed to have noticed. Either that or all his colleagues in government were doing the same, how else could he have gotten away with it? With all the Clerics, informants and surveillance devices they have out there monitoring for offenders, wouldn’t it have been really easy to spot a public figure exhibiting emotion? Am I over-thinking the bit? Probably. At this point, the movie is over anyway so who the hell cares?

Man that was a stupid movie. No, no addendums to that statement – like it was still fun, so long as you checked your brain at the door. It was just a stupid, stupid movie!

Well, that’s all for now. I could go on, but I’m already in a bad mood just thinking about all these plot f$@*-ups! Quite frankly, I’d like to get back to reviewing books or movies that I actually enjoyed. And seeing as how I finally got my hands on a copy of Idoru, I think I’ll do just that. Stay tuned!