Tag Archives: william gibson

My Top 5 Books of 2014

It’s about that time again, isn’t it? We’re all just about ready to shrug into an awkwardly fitting new year, and all of the LISTICLES are flowering. Here then are my top 5 reads of this past year; note, these aren’t necessarily books that came out this year.

1) The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

2) The Martian, by Andy Weir

3) The Peripheral, by William Gibson

4) Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, by Haruki Murakami

5) Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

Honorable Mentions: In the Dust of This Planet, by Eugene Thacker, and Gun Machine by Warren Ellis

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Lebbeus Woods’ War & Architecture and William Gibson’s The Peripheral

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“Architecture and war are not incompatible. Architecture is war. War is architecture. I am at war with my time, with history, with all authority that resides in fixed and frightened forms. I am one of millions who do not fit in, who have no home, no family, no doctrine, no firm place to call my own, no known beginning or end, no “sacred and primordial site.” I declare war on all icons and finalities, on all histories that would chain me with my own falseness, my own pitiful fears. I know only moments, and lifetimes that are as moments, and forms that appear with infinite strength, then “melt into air.” I am an architect, a constructor of worlds, a sensualist who worships the flesh, the melody, a silhouette against the darkening sky. I cannot know your name. Nor you can know mine. Tomorrow, we begin together the construction of a city.”

Came across this man’s work today at random and have been utterly obsessed with it. I have to imagine William Gibson has been inspired in some part this aesthetic — it screams the interstitial constructions and communities that are a large recurring theme in his books (chiefly, ‘The Bridge’ of The Bridge Trilogy comes to mind). Woods spoke about needing a way to see architecture in chaos, in the throws of climactic events… some deep part of my brain is trying to tie this in with  all of the bleak, gorgeous brain-scrambling Warren Ellis has been doing of late over at MORNING, COMPUTER.

Also, there’s Gibson’s newest, ‘The Peripheral’, finally out…I’m reading it at a strangely slow pace, partially because this is how I read my favorite writers, typically, and Gibson always. Partially it’s the structure of the book — it has absolutely zero ‘fat’ to it, it’s completely lean. It’s sparse in a literal sense but so immensely dense that you have to digest it slowly. He has more or less removed any kind of exposition at all, an ultimate gesture of ‘show don’t tell’. Description and dialogue, mood and character. The sci-fi markers and associated language of slang and other misc. signifiers are set before the reader, demanding to be made sense of. I remember way back in HS when I tried to get a friend into Neuromancer and he couldn’t get through 50 pages, saying it was just too hard to understand. Neuromancer practically spoon-fed you by comparison. I think some of this has to do with the fact that Gibson knows he has the sort of rare cachet with his readers, he knows that they’ll not only do the work but will love to do it. It’s ambitious, period, and possibly only something that could’ve been done with the confidence that comes with having done something well for a long time and been recognized.

There’ll certainly be a lot more to connect these two current obsessions after I finally finish the book, but they keep screaming to each other across the nether regions of my brain. Both of the futures in The Peripheral are fractured, cascading, held together by grand walls of customized minutiae and thin black cables.

GQ in conversation with William Gibson: Just how fucked are we?

Read the wonderful interview here.

This is a great interview; I’m d.y.i.n.g. for his new book coming out next week. I feel like Gibson has an almost singular genius for being able to seemingly reach at will and get the pulse of Western cultural anxieties, that he then just…curates into something bleak, funny, textured, but with some vague tinge of hope, po-mo nihilism only sometimes tongue-in-cheek.

Misc. Ratings

Books

‘Bird Box’,  by Josh Malerman — 4

‘Asylum’, by Madeline Roux — 3.5

‘The Martian’, by Andy Weir — 5 !!!

‘Friendship’, by Emily Gould — 3.5

‘Gun Machine’, by Warren Ellis — 4

‘Virtual Light’, by William Gibson (reread) — 5

‘Pattern Recognition’, by William Gibson (reread) — 5

‘Ready Player One’, by Ernest Cline — 4.5

TV

True Detective (season 1) — 5 !!!

Masters of Sex (season 2) — 4

Film

House of Wax — 3

Mama — 3.5

Not much to note; have been getting some good reading in. Cannot overstate how good ‘The Martian’ is, better than all the hype had even lead me to believe it would be. So incredibly smart, funny, and well paced. Ready Player One was as well, a book I wish I had gotten around to reading sooner.  Warren Ellis’ latest was everything I hoped for — the man simply doesn’t know how to put bad writing out into the world. He’s just so damn funny, in the blackest way possible, and simply knows how to write a good story. I was building my altar to him after ‘Transmetropolitan’ back when I was 17, and he’s never once disappointed me since.  There’s something incredibly earnest about how he approaches writing and his readers, he’s simply harsh enough on himself that he’ll never let a piece of shit out and tell you it’s worth your time. If he puts his name on it, you’re going to get him at his best.

Reread a bit of Gibson as sort of an old ritual, as he has his latest coming out later this month. I don’t really mark my calendar for any writer except Murakami and Gibson. Everyone is I love is insanely great, but those two are floating in their own universe, and  getting new novels from both of them this year feels like winning the lottery to me. Was thinking of rereading the entire ‘Blue Ant’ trilogy, but I’d really like to clear off some other pressing to-reads, as after finishing Gibson’s new ‘The Peripheral’ I plan to very seriously set aside most if not all of my reading to focus on writing again. I’ve had a couple ideas really eating away at my skull the last few years. Not sure which I’m really feeling right now, but I’m starting to lean a bit, having begun spending my time (via catching up on Ellis’ newest comics work) with comics again. We’ll see.

Stopped very early in the ‘Under 40’ alt-lit anthology just because…I don’t know. I feel the ‘alt lit’ ‘thing’ here and there, it never seems to quite sustain for long. Then I caught the slightest whiffs of all the mega cluster-fuckery going around Tao Lin ant HTML giant and everything and I just didn’t feel like it. There’s great writing in this anthology and I plan to come back to it down the road, it’s just not ringing my bells right now.

I’m working through Yerra Sugarman’s ‘The Bag of Broken Glass’, but I only read it in the late hours when I feel most focused, and it’s easily the most emotionally charged poetry I’ve read in a very, very long time, maybe ever. It’s a truly heartbreaking collection and I just can’t read it quickly, so it’ll take a bit.

I don’t know what to say about True Detective (season 1). Like Breaking Bad, I was sure it was good and had heard enough about it from people whose taste I trust that I knew it’d be good, but I had no idea it’d be the truly dark and strange and perfect beast that it is. Whatever big awards it pulls in (especially MM) it absolutely deserves without reservation. It took me to places I hadn’t felt since maybe Twin Peaks. I think it may have shot it’s own load though, I don’t know if any further seasons will ever match the voodoo that season 1 did, but I’m happy to be proven wrong. Easily, easily the best writing / acting / direction of any TV show since Breaking Bad, hands down, no contest.

Review: ‘Shovel Ready’, by Adam Sternbergh

Shovel Ready: A NovelShovel Ready: A Novel by Adam Sternbergh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I will be honest and admit I wasn’t overly convinced of this novel right away; as a lover of William Gibson and Warren Ellis, the setting and premise felt a bit too familiar and overall the ground felt a bit well-tread. I knew right away I’d probably not be disappointed because this kind of gritty, noir speculative fiction is deeply in my wheelhouse, but I wasn’t sure it was going to live up to the expectations I had been building up for it for months.

In the end, I had really been swept up by this book, which manages to be more than the sum of its parts, which is not necessarily a knock on the parts. Adam Sternbergh has an obvious talent for pace and a heavily stylized narrative voice. The plot remains a bit well-worn, a heavy-drinking hitman anti-hero meandering about a dirty-bombed New York City full of shanty camp towns and the rich plugged into yet another flavor of a Matrix-like mass hallucinatory cyberspace bites off big on a strange job that only gets stranger. But Sternbergh is a fine storyteller and more than competently ushers along an engrossing tale. But the real strength here is in the frenetic tempo of the entire story, the way tension is elevated higher and higher and kept taut through the end.

The real danger of writing in a familiar genre is too easily falling into tired tropes and half-hearted style, and the book manages to mostly avoid it; the grit and noir are convincing and textured, rubbing the right away and making sure it burns. I really can’t commend enough Sternbergh’s risky approach to style, rapidly hammering one scene into the next with staccato, almost absurdly lean prose. The culminating effect feels like an action movie or graphic novel, with things getting hot early and never settling into any downtime.

I was happy to learn, as I suspected, that this isn’t a standalone debut but that at least one more ‘Spademan’ novel is in the works. I look forward to seeing how these characters and this refreshing approach to pace and structure bear out with more time. The world Sternbergh has created may not be as ultimately unique, but it’s an enjoyable nod to its predecessors and well worth spending your time in.

View all my reviews

The Allure of Obscurity, Daniel Tiffany’s ‘Infidel Poetics’ and William Gibson’s ‘Spook Country’

I would offer up a hands-forward promise that I’m going to try so very hard to not use William Gibson novels as a talking point in any other blog posts for a while, but a quarter or so into his newest offering, Zero History, and I simply don’t think I can keep that promise.

I, like many critics of the trilogy, have found the character Hubertus Bigend to be the ostensible core, giving rise to the unofficial label ‘The Bigend Trilogy’.

A bit of summarizing: Hubertus Bigend is described in the first book as “Tom Cruise on a diet of virgins’ blood and truffled chocolates”. The following collection of critics’ description is, I think, astute:

Bigend is described by Times Union reviewer Michael Janairo as a “hyper-connected, ever curious, multigazillionaire”, and by biopunk writer Paul Di Filippo as amoral and egocentric. Other appellations include “imperious” (SFGate), “enigmatic” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch), “pontifical Belgian ad mogul” (The Village Voice), “filthy-rich man-behind-the-curtain” (Seattle Times), “untrustworthy corporate spiv” (The Guardian), “accentless Machiavellian fixer with unnervingly white teeth” (New Statesman), and “information-sucking android-like advertising guru and godgame magus” (John Clute, Sci Fi Weekly).

From Spook Country, a bit more insight:

“He’s like a monstrously intelligent giant baby…utterly immoral in the service of his own curiosity.”

Bigend can then, more or less, be considered a virtuoso of marketing in the truest sense of the mechanism. His genius and success are, as he puts it, byproducts of his own obsessions and curiosities. Make something enigmatic, as enigmatic as Bigend himself often appears, and people will be intrigued, in this case maneuvering his clients’ brand names and products in ways that take advantage of this intrigue, the same kind of ‘meta-intrigue’ that keeps the character of Bigend mysterious and the perfect agent of movement throughout the entire trilogy. He is one part obsessive collector of intriguing anomalies, and one part man of limitless wealth with which to pursue them.

We find the following exchange earlyish in Spook Country as Bigend articulates to the female protagonist, Hollis Henry, what he and his company (and her imminent employ) ‘are about’:

“So what do you expect to get out of this, if you can find out what’s in Chombo’s container?”

“No idea. None whatever. That’s exactly what makes it so interesting.”

“I don’t get it.”

“Intelligence, Hollis, is advertising turned inside out.”

‘Which means?”

“Secrets…are cool…are the very root of cool.”

What’s quickly apparent to me as a long-time follower of Gibson’s work is how he has essentially built Bigend into his fiction as a kind of avatar, an artifice-within-artifice mode of exploring his own talents and obsessions for the bits of interstitial, often esoteric bits of culture, art, and technology to be found, particularly when the current landscape of information sharing is as obstacle-free as it seems to be. Gibson has and continues to be a rather brilliant and surprisingly unique filter for such bits, combing through them and storing them away in a cellar to age a bit before curating them through the text of his novels, providing a white noise of strange minutiae that work so well to fill in the cracks of his novels, particularly in points where plot and even character development feel a bit unrefined.

Unlike many critics I actually stop short of considering these unrefined elements ‘flaws’, as I don’t consider them Gibson’s goal; whereas many writers center their work on these more traditional elements, Gibson more than any novelist I’ve read seems to give well-crafted if shallow lip service to these elements while giving much more emphasis to these interstitial bits that are, obviously, what have always really interested him. I have to say they nearly always interest me too; Gibson’s novels are full of breadcrumb trails of his own obsessions, always almost giddily inviting the reader to google them and see what all the fuss is about. I wonder how much traffic to Wikipedia is due to the piqued interest of Gibson’s large fanbase.

The reason I mention Daniel Tiffany’s Infidel Poetics is that he seems to be talking about the same thing to an extent. In my understanding of his book (of which I’ve read portions only, I admit) and his talk on the subject when he visited Notre Dame recently, he is arguing for the value of obscurity for the reason (among others) that it often produces so much allure in the ‘uninitiated’, those outside the sect / inner circle / clubhouse / whatever to which the ‘secret’ knowledge has been given.

My impression more and more is that not only does Tiffany consider the notion of ‘difficulty’ incorrect in an almost factual way but also considers it a short-changing of sorts, not only for the poet but for the fearful, uninitiated reader to whom obscurity can be such an enjoyable experience. He mentions riddles, who rely on puzzlement and obscurity for their humor and satisfaction. But the satisfaction isn’t only in the resolution, the eureka moment, but also in being puzzled at all. As Bigend said, secrets are the very root of cool. The reverse of course is the implication that the plain, the clear, the handed-to-the-reader-on-a-silver-platter is insulting and, much worse, dull.

We’re left to wonder if it’s the uninitiated then who is to be envied; those ‘educated’, ‘enlightened’ folk may have ‘the answer’ that many might thing they need to deduce from a poem or other complicated work, but what fun is that? Shouldn’t a reader chase after and embrace those works they find so enigmatic, even perhaps with the kind of obsessive quality Bigend exhibits? Not to step too much into the Franzen / Marcus debate but isn’t it the obscure, complex work that will benefit the reader? This makes questioning the motives of the crowd demanding plain-spoken’ poetry unavoidable, though I think I’ll pass for now.

Before getting that far, though, we still must talk about the nature and pleasure of obscurity. In a recent discussion the insight was brought to my attention that even if as a reader one is overwhelmingly intimidated, fearful, repulsed, disgusted, angered, etc., that all of these reactions still find roots in reactions of intrigue; if one is not bored, is not completely without reaction at all, that reaction holds value in exploring. Luckily, in literary matters we can do that exploring even without Bigend’s billionaire resources, though there is certainly a kind of currency of fortitude to be earned and spent, and it’s this kind of ‘work’ I’m trying to engage in myself, though I feel I’ve personally a long way to go in doing it well.

Labels & Letting Them Wash Over You (Gibson’s Pattern Recognition & Aesthetic Groups)

I’ve recently re-read William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition as his new book Zero History concludes the so-called ‘Bigend Trilogy’ of books and I felt I needed refreshings on the first two books before diving into the new release.

Something that has struck me so much about the book is the condition that the protagonist, Cayce Pollard, suffers from throughout the book—a sort of literal allergy to trademarks and labels, something of a byproduct of her other strange condition, this one more positive, where she’s able to preternaturally ‘detect’ future popularity of cultural trends, specifically related to products. This has gained her the self-explanatory slang job title of ‘coolhunter’, brought in as a very niche sort of medium by advertising agencies looking for the Next Big Thing.

The problem for Cayce of course is that she’s so sensitive to Past Big Things, sometimes to a violent degree (the Michelin Man, Bibendum, for instance, seems to be the worst for her, inducing phobic-level anxiety attacks).

Besides all the more inherent, fascinating things about this condition in the context of the novel, it always sticks with me because it makes me wonder why more people in our day and age haven’t ever seemed remotely averse to the absolute flood of trademarks in our daily lives; it’s always intriguing to me to realize that marketing, particularly from clothing and fashion companies, has somewhere along the way managed the insanely convenient trick of not only making it so everywhere we wear makes us ostensibly walking billboards / endorsements, but that as a society we’ve more or less cultivated an obsession over doing so. We buy certain clothes / glasses / handbags / etc. if for no other reason than to have a Coach bag with all those ‘C’s, a status symbol of course, but the object can only even work as such by being worn / carried as to be seen, and by being seen; there’s no convincing here, none of us are paid for this—we’re the ones paying of course, often paying a lot, not just for the object but for being a person who owns such an object, carries it to lunch, wears it to class.

This mostly is interesting to me as a way of thinking about labels, and the way in which the majority of us are often so eager for labels (again, on our shirts, handbags, shoes, watches) yet in other ways so vehemently defensive about them; we cringe or feel put off by other kinds of labels—white, black, African-American (even the kinds of labels can rub people the wrong way, i.e., being annoyed by political correctness, if one happens to feel as such, etc.) Young, old, fat, skinny, smart, stupid, working-class, rich, student, professor, traditional poet, experimental poet…

This is of particular interest to me, the defensive manner most poets I’ve observed conversing (or have personally conversed with) go about resisting labels. The fear I think stems from fearing a label (or even a set of labels?) will forever curse one into being regarded in only one way, the way of that most well-known label, fear of being too simplistically reduced or categorized, because in art of in nothing else, categorization seems far too objective an exercise to be regarded with positive feelings.

I think I agree with this; I think often labels are too simple, too temporally-based somehow (a poet may begin in one aesthetic before maturing into another, or intentionally breaking their own aesthetical ‘category’, trying on something new), but I also think there’s room for one to embrace a label, whether bestowed by another or self-professed, as labels are, even if too simplistic, often necessary and even fruitful in many discussions, including conversations of aesthetic. I think too often poets want the best of both worlds—want the comradery and all that goes with being in a ‘group’, a safety-in-numbers perhaps, but they also don’t want to be nailed down into that group forever, or feel themselves ‘too unique’ to belong to any one label.

I think the solution is somewhere between these two extremes; I don’t think there’s anything wrong with embracing a label, but simultaneously acknowledging the complexity, problems, and fragility of artistic labels (not to mention labels, of, mostly, all kinds). Constellatory labels, like tags on a blog post, embracing an excess of labels, an overlapping. Get enough labels on on yourself & you start looking complicated & unique indeed.