Tag: Cyberpunk

Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh

Posted May 13, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Dystopia, Science Fiction / 0 Comments

Shovel Ready by Adam SternberghTitle: Shovel Ready (Goodreads)
Author: Adam Sternbergh
Published: Hachette, 2014
Pages: 256
Genres: Dystopia
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

He is only known as Spademan, former garbage man in New York City – that was until a terrorist attack on Times Square killed his wife. Now he is taking out more than trash; a gun for hire, he will do your bidding as long as you are willing to pay. “I don’t want to know your reasons. I don’t care. Think of me as a bullet. Just point.” Shovel Ready is a fast paced science fiction thriller set in the wasteland, which use to be known as New York City.

Adam Sternbergh combines his favourite parts of neo-noir, cyberpunk and science fiction and mashes them all together to make an action novel that is crying out for a movie adaptation. Shovel Ready is so dialogue heavy that one might think it is written in a way that could be converted into a screenplay without any effort. Only problem with this is the publisher’s choice to leave out quotation marks. I hate when they do this and in a book with so much dialogue it really can be a deterrent.

Spademan is a strong protagonist, an anti-hero with strength, wit and his own set of morels. “I kill men and I kill women because I don’t discriminate. I don’t kill children because that’s a different kind of psycho.” I understand why he turns from killer to protector of his target, the runaway daughter of a wealthy US televangelist. However something didn’t sit right; a hitman is often an unemotional, uncompromising character but Spademan wasn’t. He reads like a psychopath but then every so often his actions feel uncharacteristic and that really throws me out of the novel.

Take out Spademan and just look at the world Sternbergh has created and you won’t be left wondering where he drew inspiration from. This world feels like Bladerunner and the virtual reality world know as the limnosphere reminds me of The Matrix mixed with Surrogates. In fact, it feels like the author borrowed so much from different science fiction movies and novels it is hard to pick an original thought.

When reading Shovel Ready everything whisks along and the reader never has time to stop and think about anything. I really enjoyed the novel but once I finished reading it I noticed just how much was borrowed from other mediums. I do, however, wonder if Shovel Ready was really trying to explore the issue of social disengagement that our world is heading towards but during the reading of this novel I never picked up anything so in depth.

For a fast paced science fiction/action novel, then Shovel Ready is the book for you. I do believe the film rights have already been acquired and we may see an adaptation. Adam Sternbergh is also working on a second Spademan novel and I’ll probably read it. Despite all the flaws, it was a fun, quick read and I did enjoy the experience; it was only after I got mad. Don’t expect anything deep or life altering in Shovel Ready but sometimes you just need some light entertainment.


Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

Posted March 23, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Fantasy / 0 Comments

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow WilsonTitle: Alif the Unseen (Goodreads)
Author: G. Willow Wilson
Narrator: Sanjiv Jhaveri
Published: Allen & Unwin, 2012
Pages: 433
Genres: Fantasy
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Alif is the online persona of a grey hat working in the United Arab Emirates, taken from the first letter in the Arabic alphabet. Alif is a 23 year old Arab/Indian, working in internet security who fell in love with an Arab aristocratic woman he met online. Their relationship is doomed from the start; her family would never accept someone outside her social class, let alone an Indian. Her father has already arranged a more suitable suitor for her; a mysterious and powerful man who is known online as ‘the Hand’, the states leading internet censor. In an attempt to get the girl, Alif has made a powerful enemy, one that forces him to go underground into the world of Jinn’s (genies), ghouls, demons and all the others that remain unseen.

Debut author G. Willow Wilson set out to write a book that can bring her three loves together. A love of comic books and all things geeky, as well as her love of literary fiction and that of her Muslim heritage. The result is Alif the Unseen, a rich blend of cyberpunk and urban fantasy that explores the Arabic culture as well as looks as many social-political issues. Personally I think Wilson set out to expose the bias that the online community has no social consciousness, and educate the world on Muslim culture as well as explore the societal impact of hackivism.

I picked up this novel because G. Willow Wilson is the writer behind the new Ms. Marvel; the fourth character to take on this superhero and is the first Muslim character to have their own Marvel series. After reading the first issue, I wanted to check out Alif the Unseen. I knew it was a cyberpunk/urban fantasy blend but now I expected a strong Arabic or Muslim presence. I didn’t except a literary approach to this genre, but I was pleasantly surprised, Wilson has a lot to say on the Middle East social-politically speaking but also she educates the reader on a culture that is possibly unfamiliar to them.

G. Willow Wilson also takes on Middle Eastern folklore and myths and blends these fables with a religious element. Take jinn for example, we know them as genies but Islamic belief divides sentient beings into three categories. These are Malayka (angels), Nas or Banu Adam (human) and Jinn (the hidden ones). Angels are genderless and have no free will, but humans and Jinn’s are gendered and have free will, this is why Islamics believe Satan was a Jinn and not an angel, as it is impossible for an angel to disobey the will of God. Also playing a role in the story is the hamsa (or the hand of Fatima) which is like a good luck charm in Islamic culture. In the Judeo-Christian world this is often called the hand of Mary or Miriam.

I also want to talk about hackivism. In this novel Alif lives in a heavily censored world; the government believes in having a tight control on what is on the internet. Alif is a grey hat; this is a hacker that doesn’t work for a cooperation of the government.  The term comes from the old western metaphor where the good guys wore white hats and the villains had black hats. A grey hat would be someone whose activities and practices fell in a grey area. For Alif, it was a matter of free speech (and possibly money). He provided security for enemies of the Arad stats, militant Islamists and even pornographers. Sites that the government wants to shut down often turned to Alif or another grey hat for internet security.

I can probably go on and talk more about the range of topics that are going on in Alif the Unseen, but I fear I don’t have the knowledge of Middle Eastern folklore or culture, Islam and hackivism. One of the things I enjoy most about reading is the ability to explore different cultures and learn about the world. Alif the Unseen took me into the rich world of the United Arab Emirates and looked at many social issues, in particular class and religion. I’m not much of a fantasy reader but I do seem to prefer urban fantasy, add in the cyberpunk and literary elements and I’m happy. Alif the Unseen will entertain and educate all its readers; most people will just read it for the entertainment but I hope they take a little understanding with them.


The Literary Exploration Reading Challenge Returns for 2014

Posted December 12, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 9 Comments

The Literary Exploration reading challenge is back, by popular demand. As most people know, Literary Exploration tries to explore all different genres in the hope to become a well-rounded reader and even discover something new. So we are challenging everyone to dedicate either 12, 24 or 36 books that you would normally read during the year to different genres. We have compiled a list which hopefully will give you a chance to explore literature a little deeper.

It’s real simple; below you will see an easy (12 books), hard (24 books) or insane (36 books) challenge. Each genre links to the Goodreads genre page if you need some suggestions on what to read. We want you to have some fun and explore; hopefully you might find a new genre that peaks your interest. To sign up either join the Literary Exploration book club on Goodreads and talk about your progress with others involved or for the bloggers out there, if you want to add it as part of your blogging experience simply let us know with a link (to your Literary Exploration Challenge page) in the comments below so our readers can see how you are going.

This year we have adjusted the insane challenge slightly to make it a little more rounded. The popularity of the reading challenge with overwhelming and we are pleased to see how many people wanted to do it again next year. We have even offered some bonus for those who want to take it to the next level. The idea of this challenge is to have a well-balanced list of genres and not focusing on one genre more than any others.

Good luck all who decide to join in. I personally am going to go for the 36 book, insane challenge and I’m really looking forward to it. While there are some genres I’m not looking forward to reading, it’s all part of being a literary explorer. What could be wrong with that?

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First Steps: Cyberpunk

Posted August 17, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in First Steps / 0 Comments

literary stepsFirst Steps is a new segment that was inspired by the Literary Exploration Reading Challenge. Each week or two, we look at books from different themes, genres or maybe authors and suggest some that are worth trying. Not necessarily all easy to read books but the ones that are worth the time and effort. My goal is to have First Steps guide you to some great books in places you don’t normally venture to.

Cyberpunk is a genre I have found many people struggle with, especially in the Literary Exploration Reading Challenge. I’m not sure if this is a lack of recommendations or they just not sure what this genre is all about. Cyberpunk is a futuristic world that focuses on “high tech and low life[s]” (according to What is cyberpunk? From Cyberpunked: Journal of Science, Technology, & Society 2009). Think post-industrial dystopian worlds with advanced technology and cybernetics; science fiction normally with a touch of thriller, mystery or pulp.

Movie examples would include Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell, Tron, The Matrix and Surrogates. On TV think Dark Angel or Dollhouse and in video games there are heaps of examples but the best two are; Deus Ex or Watch Dogs. This is a genre that is almost dying out, technology advancement has been accepted by most and often used in science fiction or dystopian novels, but it does leave behind a couple of new sub genres; steampunk and dieselpunk.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

This book is big but lots of fun; it follows two protagonists hunting down a virus in the not so distant future. A world where the United States has yielded most of its power to private organizations and entrepreneurs. Everything has been franchised, from armies, highways to even suburbs.

 
 

Daemon by Daniel Suarez

Technology controls almost everything in our modern world, from remote entry on our cars and the flight controls of our airplanes to the movements of the entire world economy. But what if some computer designer has been planting a dormant daemon in everything that he creates that will take full control of everything connected to a computer when he dies.

 

Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

In the twenty-fifth century, technology has advanced so much that human personalities can be digitally stored on what is known as a Stack. These stacks can be downloaded into new bodies or sleeves, so when you die your stack can be stored indefinitely and you can be resleeved and continue living. Death is impossible, or is it?

 

Neuromancer by William Gibson

This is a seminal cyberpunk novel by the legend himself; William Gibson. The first novel to ever win the “Triple crown” in science fiction (winning the Nebula Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, and the Hugo Award). This follows the story of a low-level hustler, hacker and thief in the dystopian underworld of Chiba City, Japan.

 
 

When Gravity Fails by George Alec Effinger

A new kind of killer roams the streets of the Arab ghettos of Budayeen, a madman whose bootlegged personality cartridges range from a sinister James Bond to a sadistic disemboweler named Khan. The unique blend of Middle Eastern culture and religion and cyberpunk noir makes this highly recommended.


Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Posted June 26, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Speculative Fiction, Thriller / 0 Comments

Snow Crash by Neal StephensonTitle: Snow Crash (Goodreads)
Author: Neal Stephenson
Published: Bantam Press, 1992
Pages: 440
Genres: Speculative Fiction, Thriller
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

In a time in the not so distance future where the federal government of the United States has yielded most of its power to private organizations and entrepreneurs, franchising individual sovereignty reigns supreme. Merchant armies complete national defence, highway companies compete for drivers and the mafia own the pizza delivery game. Hiro Protagonist, “Last of the freelance hackers and greatest swordfighter in the world”, finds himself without his pizza delivery job when a young skateboard “Kourier” named Y.T. tries to hitch a ride on his vehicle. Leading them on a grand scale adventure trying to uncover just what exactly Snow Crash is.

Like all of Neal Stephenson books, you can expect this one to cover subjects like  history, linguistics, anthropology, archaeology, religion, computer science, politics, cryptography, and philosophy, all while keeping to his cyberpunk thriller style. He says this book was named after the early mac software failure mode:

“When the computer crashed and wrote gibberish into the bitmap, the result was something that looked vaguely like static on a broken television set—a ‘snow crash’”

His goal, was to take the reader on a “full tour of Sumerian culture, a fully instantiated anarcho-capitalist society, and a virtual meta-society patronized by financial, social, and intellectual elites.” Snow Crash is a pseudo-narcotic or is it something far worse; Hiro and Y.T (short for Yours Truly) slowly discover that it is in fact a computer virus capable of infecting the brains of careless hackers in the Metaverse (the successor to the internet) and a mind altering virus in reality.

One of the things I liked most about Snow Crash was the fact that Neal Stephenson showed us how to write a kick ass teenage girl protagonist. Young Adult novels like to use a strong teenaged girl as a main character but few of them really know how to make her great; most are just Katniss clones. While Y.T’s narrative wasn’t as focused as that of Hiro, it was more of a pleasure to read, she seemed to accomplish the most in the entire book and she did it her own way without compromising her character. Sure, she did manage to get into some trouble and make some bad choices but she’s human, I expect them to struggle and fall and recover from their mistakes.

While this was a fun and exciting novel there are some things that I just didn’t like; firstly each ethical group portrayed the stereotypical extreme.  The mafia, the rednecks from New South Africa, the Pentecostals, Mr. Lee’s Greater Hong Kong and so on, all felt very much like the cliché versions of these cultures and Stephenson played on the stereotypes a little too heavily. I know they were only minor plot arcs but it still felt like it was overdone. The most interesting people in the book are the ones living outside their cultural and ethnic groups; Hiro, Y.T and Raven.

Then there is my biggest problem with the book, which is a similar problem I had with Reamde and that is I feel like Neal Stephenson turns some chapters into a Wikipedia articles just to give us all the interesting information he has on a subject he is exploring. In this book it is every time the librarian talks, there is heaps and heaps of interesting, and sometimes irrelevant, information and the way Stephenson tried to stops it become and wall of text is the awkward attempt to make it sound like a conversation. Hiro keeps interrupting the librarian’s information with very simplified reiteration, agreements and metaphors, I found it incredible annoying.

Overall this was a fast paced cyber thriller with some weird and unusual tangents and twists. Stephenson has some interesting ideas about the future of the world but for some reason I never feel a strong connection to his books. I think I prefer William Gibson’s style and take on the future cyber world but can’t fault Stephenson for what he does. Not that I’ve read many books from this author and there are plenty more I want to read, maybe I just feel like he over simplifies and draws his novels out a little too much.


Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

Posted March 27, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Pulp, Science Fiction / 0 Comments

Altered Carbon by Richard K. MorganTitle: Altered Carbon (Goodreads)
Author: Richard K. Morgan
Series: Takeshi Kovacs #1
Published: Del Rey, 2002
Pages: 526
Genres: Pulp, Science Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

In the twenty-fifth century, technology has advanced so much that human personalities can be digitally stored on what is known as a Stack. These stacks can be downloaded into new bodies or sleeves, so when you die your stack can be stored indefinably and you can be resleeved and continue living. Death is virtually impossible, when Laurens Bancroft commits suicide (destroying his stack) he is resleeved from a backup, he has no memory of his actions but believe this was an actual murder attempt. He hires Takeshi Kovacs to investigate his death and find out what happened in those 48 hours between his last back up and suicide.

Altered Carbon is a cyberpunk hard-boiled novel that really reminds me of When Gravity Fails, they have similar genre style and while both of them have a completely different feel to them, both well worth reading. Takeshi Kovacs is a former United Nations Envoy; an elite solider whose last death was a particularly painful one. He finds himself being resleeved one hundred and eighty light years from home back on earth.  Without time to deal with his own issues, he is thrown in to solve this dark and disturbing conspiracy.

In this dystopian like future, death is never something to fear, a resleeving will fix things and if you have the money you can put yourself into a better body at any time. If someone is murdered they are resleeved to testify of the crime. This makes the Catholics a popular target for murder, as they have arranged not to be resleeved if they die so their souls can go to heaven instead. The reason I bring this up is to give you an idea of what the world is like in Altered Carbon. In fact there is a subplot involving the UN altering its legal position to authorise the temporary resleeving of a Catholic murder victim to testify in her murder trial.

I was eager to pick up this book as I’ve heard so many great things about it and I love the idea of a good cyberpunk hardboiled novel; it reminds me of Blade Runner and how much I loved that movie as a kid. Technology has advanced so much in this word but people haven’t, there are still divisions between the classes, races and religions. Mankind has not evolved at all, they have just found a way to cater to their vanity as well as immortality.

Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan is one hell of a journey; there are all these little plot threads blended together with the real story arch to help build this dark and gritty future. Being the winner of the Philip K Dick award for best novel in 2003  told me that not only was it going to be a great science fiction novel but winning this award meant there will be some interesting ideas that will stick with the reader well after finishing the book. Like Philip K Dick, Morgan has put a lot of thought into his future and came up with a great concept that really works.

I’m so impressed with Altered Carbon I’m thinking about reading the rest of the series; only problem is I’ve heard the other books don’t really work in the same way. So I would love to know of more cyberpunk hardboiled novels worth reading; I think When Gravity Fails is probably the only other one I’ve really read and enjoyed. I know people will probably tell me Snow Crash or even The Diamond Age and yes, I will get to those books eventually. But I’m sure there are plenty of great books in the style out there.

I’m so happy to have finally read Altered Carbon; there is so much in this book we can talk about. I have avoided the main story line in the hopes that I’ve left this review relatively spoiler free. I would love to talk more of the world and the concept of resleeving but  most of my readers may not have read this book yet. For fans of science fiction and even crime novels, don’t be scared of Altered Carbon; it is worth your time and effort.


Introducing The 2013 Literary Exploration Reading Challenge

Posted December 15, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 52 Comments

logoAs the year starts to come to a close, we readers start to think about what we would like to read next year and for some of us, we look for the reading challenge that excites us the most. As most people know, Literary Exploration tries to explore all different genres in the hope to become a well-rounded reader and even discover something new. So in 2013 we would like to challenge you to explore further.

Instead of increasing the book club to two books a month we decided we wanted people to read what they wanted to read; but we also want people to explore. So we are challenging everyone to dedicate either 12, 24 or 36 books that you would normally read to different genres. We have compiled a list which hopefully will give you a chance to explore literature a little deeper.

It’s real simple; below you will see an easy (12 books), hard (24 books) or insane (36 books) challenge. Each genre links to the Goodreads genre page if you need some suggestions on what to read. We want you to have some fun and explore; hopefully you might find a new genre that peaks your interest. To sign up either join the Literary Exploration book club on Goodreads and talk about your progress with others involved or for the bloggers out there, if you want to add it as part of your blogging experience simply let us know with a link (to your Literary Exploration Challenge page) in the comments below so our readers can see how you are going.

This is the first year doing this and if all goes well we might expand and make it a yearly challenge. If we do decide to do this on a yearly basis and you feel that there are some genres are either too heavily focused on or not mentioned at all, please let me know. The idea of this challenge is to have a well-balanced list of genres and not focusing on one genre more than any others.

Good luck all who decide to join in. I personally am going to go for the 36 book, insane challenge and I’m really looking forward to it. While there are some genres I’m not looking forward to reading, it’s all part of being a literary explorer. What could be wrong with that?

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When Gravity Fails by George Alec Effinger

Posted July 12, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Pulp, Science Fiction / 0 Comments

When Gravity Fails by George Alec EffingerTitle: When Gravity Fails (Goodreads)
Author: George Alec Effinger
Series: Marîd Audran #1
Published: Orb Books, 1987
Pages: 288
Genres: Pulp, Science Fiction
My Copy: Audiobook

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

It’s been awhile since I’ve been so immersed into a science fiction world like this; I think the last time was with China Mieville’s The City and The City. The city of Budayeen something I’ve not experienced before, the blend of Middle Eastern culture and religion really bring this to life in a unique way. Marîd Audrian makes for a great protagonist; he is hard boiled and reminds me a lot of the private detectives in the pulp genres.

When Gravity Fails is a brilliant example of tech noir (so science fiction noir). It has a twisted case for Marîd to investigate, which leads him on a fantastic adventure. It kind of reminds me a little of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher in the sense that it takes the best elements of the pulp genre and mixes it with a hard hitting protagonist in a well built speculative fiction world.

The world is gritty and the story is full of sex, drugs and murder; it offers a lot the think about in regards to the modifications and technology on offer in Budayeen. If you can chance every aspect of your body, mind and personality, would you do it and what are the side effects? I can’t wait to dive further into this world and see what Marîd gets up to in the next book. Recommended for fans of science fiction and pulp novels or even just fans of The Dresden Files; actually I would probably recommend it to anyone that wants to read a captivating book.