Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Wherefore art thou novelty

I read Neuromancer by William Gibson last week. No way around it; it's an excellent book. I thought I had beef, somewhere in the middle, with the vague rompus-like nature of the plot; but then I realized that the vagueness was what made it so satisfying to me. It was an adventure through The Awesome, thanks in no small part to Gibson's ability to creat vivid images in my mind's eye with sparkling metaphors.

What was weird, though, is how much less affected I was by reading it as opposed to how affected I'd expected I'd be. Some friends of mine read Neuromancer in high school and couldn't shut up about it, and I've always gotten the impression it's considered a very important work in the genre of science fiction (cum-cyberpunk). So I was suprised by the fact that, although I was drawn into the story, in a lot of ways I simply nodded and hummed along with the techno-revelation.

I wonder if maybe the fact that I'm so far in the future (Neuromancer was published in 1984) means that I can't appreciate the novelty of the work, because I was, well, born after that, and then introduced to "the matrix" by "The Matrix," and alternate reality by "VR Troopers," and crusty post-industrial street-gang infested worlds by roleplaying games. Whatever it is, Neuromancer isn't bad per se, but nonetheless stands in stark relief to the book I'm reading now, "The Player of Games" by Iain M. Banks--an author who never ceases to blow my mind with his space-operatic vistas (even though the aforementioned book was written in '89).

Banks is one of the only authors I've ever read more than one book by, precisely because his ability to deliver novelty is disproportionate to the entire F&SF pantheon. His "Culture" world is ingenuous, but beyond that, I think I am sympathetic with Banks's sense of humour--or rather, I'm sympathetic to humour in books at all, whereas I find most modern SF avoids humour except for a few pithy jokes. Banks's ability to make stories that are multifaceted--both in terms of "levels," i.e. interaction across "medieval," "galactic," and "Old One"-type cultures, and "moods," from the larkish to the ultra-epic--constantly draws me back in, because I know I can't be disappointed by a journey across the Culture.

I wish I could think up something so ingenuously new and vivacious. At the moment I'm brewing an alternate history/steampunk/divination-magic short, set during the Franco-Prussian war (I'm extremely partial to the wars of the nineteenth century), but alternate-history is in my opinion only pseudo-creativity--the chaos of history being the most creative force in the world.

Perhaps one day I can augment my creative forces if, like Iain M. Banks, I grow a beard. My powers in that region, however, are like France's rail density in 1870: inferior to pretty much every other great power's.

-bn

5 comments:

  1. Sounds like an interesting concept for your next book. Steampunk-wielding Prussian diviners are actually in demand at the moment, I believe.

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  2. Eh, only the most lucky of science fiction writers will survive unscathed by the advance of history and technology.

    Oh, now I get it: Haha.

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  3. Have you ever ready anything by Connie Willis? She's got some great great (in my humble opinion, anyway) sci-fi comedy.

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  4. I have not... but I will! I'm always trying to discover new writers to read.

    -bn

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  5. Connie's most well-known novel, "The Doomsday Book," is understandably more solemn as it deals with the plague and a disaster for the time-traveler's present-day as well, although it has some fun stuff in it, if I recall. "To Say Nothing of the Dog" isn't exactly a sequel to "Doomsday Book," although it takes place in the same universe and has a few overlap characters--and I thought it was hilarious. You don't need to read "Doomsday Book" to understand it either. "Bellweather" is pretty funny too, although admittedly it doesn't have many scifi elements to it. "Impossible Things" is a story collection with some really fun ones in it. She's got a lot more, but there are a few ideas to introduce you.

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