Sunday, February 05, 2006

Neuromancer

I've been trying to decide what I wanted to write about the last book I read for a while now. It's been quite a while since I read a book that I truly did not like. Sure, I've read quite a few that I found to be "good but not great" or "just ok," but Neuromancer by William Gibson is the first book in a while that I really did not like. It is one of the few I have read recently that I would never recommend.

I realize that a good number of people have praised the book for starting the cyberpunk trend, and perhaps they like it almost solely for that reason. However looking at it from 2006, I am completely disappointed based on all the praise it has received. The book does not even come close to any of the great science fiction writers, such as Dick, Asimov, or even some lesser authors. Perhaps, I have just come to expect too much from science fiction writers.

My first gripe with the book is characters. Gibson completely failed at making me even the least bit interested in any of the characters. Case, the main character, is only marginally interesting, but somehow being a drug addict is supposed to make him edgy and interesting. Gibson put too much into the addict side of Case and not enough into what Case actually did. There was more description of Case obtaining drugs ONE TIME than of him actually "working" throughout the whole book. It's almost like Gibson never decided what Case was actually doing. Actually, that brings me to my second problem with the book.

The book never takes any time to actually relate what the new technology did. I understand that science fiction is about imagination, but the author has to give the reader something to work with. Gibson only gives us names and some very basic descriptions of the lesser technologies. We never once have an explanation of any sort of how Case works in the matrix. We do get a few glimpses at how technology has changed, but other authors have done a much better job at giving the reader an actually glimpse into the future. With Neuromancer I was never sure just how much society had advanced. At one point it seemed almost identical to our current time with a few neat gadgets, but later it seemed as though every thing was different. It's like half way through we went from 100 years in the future to nearly a thousand.

Finally, the biggest flaw is the pacing and explanation of the plot. The only time the plot actually flows and seems to be revealed at all is in the last 50 pages, which leaves you with 200 pages of incoherence. Perhaps even worse is that I never once felt like I was actually absorbed in the story. A good author makes the reader at least curious about what will happen, but I never once felt any motivation to read the book except to get it finished. In other words, it was my completionist mentality rather than curiosity that got me through the book.

With all the negativity aside, I will read another Gibson book. I have heard that Count Zero is much better, so I will give Gibson another shot. I hope that Neuromancer was merely Gibson getting comfortable. I also hope it does not seem like I absolutely hate the book. I have read worse books, but my disappointment is just so great that I'm quite frustrated. I suppose the acclaim the book received was due to the new sub-genre it created, not its excellence.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Confusion

I read Quicksilver over a year and a half ago, and I was terribly disappointed. Cryptonomicon still remains in my mind as one of the best adventure stories I have read, so my expectations were very, very high. However, where Cryptonomicon was funny, exhilarating, and geeky, Quicksilver only managed to set up some characters and explain science that is anything but obscure. I actually put off reading The Confusion by Neal Stephenson because I feared I would only be further disappointed. Again, I couldn't have been more wrong.

While The Confusion does not in anyway reach the level of Cryptonomicon, it does go in the right direction. I'm not a huge fan of the characters, Jack and Eliza, that it focuses on, so it did take me a bit of time to ease into the book. Stephenson did a fine job of making me appreciate the "tough guys" in the story even though I would have rather been reading about happenings in the Royal Society. Perhaps, that is actually what helped The Confusion. The Royal Society and its science may be just a bit too far on the common knowledge side. The book still manages to cram in obscure facts, which the first was somewhat lacking.

That's not to say the book does not have some glaring issues. Pacing is one of them. Some complained that Cryptonomicon was poorly paced, but I found that it had reached an almost perfect balance when it came to how long one character was focused on. So, it's not Stephenson's typical style that bothers me. The problem here is he missed the mark when deciding how much time each situation deserved. Ultimately, towards the end it all felt rushed where the rest felt milked for all it was worth. Of course, Stephenson seems to like letting the reader fill in more gaps toward the end than anywhere else. Even Cryptonomicon felt the effect.

Past the pacing, the book shines with an intricate plot. Stephenson is back to a massive gold hunt, much like Cryptonomicon. I love the idea of searching for the legendary gold of Solomon, especially in a setting that is less focused on esoteric religions. It seems every time a subject regarding ancient artifacts is addressed in literature there has to be some cult involved or even the occult. Stephenson simply plays off the thinking of the time. When society began moving toward the mentality that everything must be proved through experimentation, it was only logical that religion be given the same test, so a search for an essence of God in biblical artifacts is not so much of a stretch.

Now, I fear I have compared The Confusion to Cryptonomicon too much, but that is simply because Cryptonomicon is what turned me on to Stephenson. I want to relive just how much I loved reading that book. I fear I may remember the book being better than it is, but The Confusion erases most of that doubt from my mind. I can truly see the potential here for so much, so I will definitely finish up The Baroque Cycle eventually, especially with the promise of our two heroes battling each other. What could possibly be better?