Tag Archives: near future technology

Review of Synners by Pat Cadigan

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I’ve been reading a number of novellas and some children’s books, so suddenly felt like getting my teeth into something a bit more meaty and this alluring, dark cover beckoned to me from my teetering To Be Read pile. So I scooped it up and dived in…

synnersIn Synners, the line between humanity and technology is hopelessly slim. The human mind and the external landscape have fused to the point where any encounter with ‘reality’ is incidental. Now you can change yourself to suit the machines – and all it will cost you is your freedom. And your humanity.

This cyberpunk winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award takes a while to get going as the group of disparate characters are established amongst a tech-heavy world in a near-future where everyone is increasingly reliant on their technology. Given that this was written and published back in 1992, before many of our current technological gismos were in current use, Cadigan’s world is eerily prescient. I felt very at home with much of her near-future predictions, which is a tad worrying when considering how it all ends.

When there is a number of main characters, there are always the one or two who particularly chime – for me, these were Gina, who hooked up with the video star Visual Mark twenty-something years ago and is still drifting in his wake as he becomes increasingly lost to his videos and drug-taking. Though she is still a name to contend with, as her daredevil stunts in Mark’s videos have earned her respect throughout the industry. She sings off the page with her cynical, acidic asides and her gritted passion for what she believes in. The other character I really loved is poor old Gabe, the typical artist-turned-corporate-wage-slave, who makes advertisements, while wishing he did almost anything else. To allay his boredom and sense of futility, he regularly escapes into a classic game using a hotsuit to enable him to virtually interact with the two main characters in the game.

This is one of the main attributes of cyberpunk – not only to pull the reader into a high-tech, near-future world, but also into cyberspace where reality exists in the interface between humanity and machines. And the best of this genre takes you there, immersing you into an altered landscape, where memes and symbols take on different meanings that the reader completely accepts.

Therefore when it all starts kicking off, two-thirds of the way through this one, Cadigan’s virtual world sings off the page in a blend of poetry and prose as she depicts her characters’ rich inscapes with complete conviction. This is why I am prepared to slow down my normal reading rate for this particular genre and pay attention – because the rewards are so very satisfying when it is done well. Needless to say, the climax is beautifully handled, and the final third of the book was difficult to put down as the plot continues gathering momentum during the ongoing crisis and humanity attempts to fight back. And in this genre, there is no guarantee of a ‘happy ever after’ ending.

I finally put the book down, aware of coming back to the present from a long way away – always the mark of a master worldbuilder. So while Synners takes time to get going, my advice with this one is to persevere – it’s worth it.
9/10

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Teaser Tuesday – 19th July, 2016

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Teaser

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Books and a Beat.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:
Solar Express by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
p. 106: Unlike on transport flights, he was wearing a skintight pressure suit, with his helmet secured solarexpressunder the couch. He had his doubts about the usefulness of the suit. While it would allow him to survive decompression and would provide insulation for several hours, and oxygen for roughly the same time, its usefulness was limited to instants where damage to the burner did not affect the drives, since if he could not return somewhere quickly, he doubted that anyone could rescue him in that time – or would be terribly interested in doing so.

BLURB: You can’t militarize space. This one rule has led to decades of peaceful development of space programs worldwide. However, increasing resource scarcity and a changing climate on Earth’s surface is causing some interested parties to militarize, namely India, the North American Union, and the Sinese Federation.

The discovery of a strange artifact by Dr. Alayna Wong precipitates a crisis. What appears to be a hitherto undiscovered comet is soon revealed to be an alien structure on a cometary trajectory toward the sun. Now there is a race between countries to see who can study and control the artifact dubbed the “Solar Express” before it perhaps destroys itself.

This is hard science fiction with emphasis on the ‘hard’. Modesitt’s writing is dense, scattered with acronyms and allusions to space stuff, without stopping to explain much along the way. That’s okay. I don’t have a problem with that, so long as the protagonists are three-dimensional and believable. So far, so good – although this isn’t a book I’ll be whizzing through. Still… it’s good to let out my inner geek every so often.

Review of Makers by Cory Doctorow

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This interesting, near-future technology-based novel initially came out in 2009 in serial form as an ebook, before being released by Voyager as a printed version. I’ve been interested to read a variety of responses to the book, many of them hostile…

Perry and Lester invent things. All sorts of things. Seashell robots that can make toast, Boogie Woogie Elmo dolls that drive cars. They makersalso invent an entirely new economic system. ‘New Work’ is a New Deal for the technological era, and together Perry and Lester transform the country, with journalist Suzanne Church there to document their progress.

For the record, that’s half the blurb published (which I hadn’t read before embarking on the book) on the inside of the cover – and the reason why I’m not continuing any further, is that the next paragraph proceeds to give away at least half the major plot points of the book. Which is the reason, I reckon, that one of the recurring complaints I’ve encountered about this book is that the story is slow and predictable. If those reviewers knew in advance what was coming up, no wonder they felt the book dragged. That’s the only explanation I can come up with – because although it’s a long book, at no time did I find my attention wandering. Doctorow’s gleeful enthusiasm for the new toys he’s envisioned for the near future didn’t stop him paying attention to providing an entertaining storyline and likeable, interesting characters. I was also impressed at the clarity of the writing – at no point was I scratching my head or having to backtrack and reread any sections in order to understand exactly what all these cool, techie gismos did. And while I enjoy browsing through the New Scientist, I’m no science specialist.

I have a suspicion that many of the poor reviews about Makers are aimed at the high profile author who makes no secret of his beliefs, many of which are somewhat controversial. One complaint was grumbling about the fact that Doctorow chose Duracell as a struggling company of the future… while another targeted the fact that Lester and Perry spent a lot of time making kitch dross, rather than worthy, planet-saving inventions. There were several scathing comments along the line that despite Doctorow’s dislike of large profit-hugging corporations, such as Disney, his maverick inventors still ended up working in a system that made money.

Well – duh… I would suggest that while it’s a no-brainer that Capitalism is a toxic system, criminally wasteful of the resources and humanity that get ground up underfoot – so far, thanks to the crash of Communism and the current woes of Socialist governments across the globe it’s the system we’re stuck with. And if Doctorow had managed to come up with a credible alternative system in his novel, he’d probably be Out There, earning himself a Nobel Peace prize and becoming the first President of Earth, rather than critiquing the current sorry mess as a writer.

I think it’s a shame that Makers has drawn down so much unfriendly criticism due to Doctorow’s political stance, because while at times the prose is a little rough around the edges, I’ve read an awful lot of science fiction novels   where the pacing, characterisation and plotting was a great deal worse, yet garnered far more favourable reviews. Doctorow has all sorts of interesting observations to make in this thoughtful look at the near future and how technology may shape the outlook for sections of American society. I also thoroughly enjoyed the story of Lester, Perry and Suzanne and am not sure how anyone could have thought the poignant epilogue was predictable.

If you are genuinely interested in what one person has to say about how new technology might impact the near future – and won’t throw up your hands in horror if said person chooses not to address the issues of resources or climate change – then I strongly recommend this novel.
9/10