Neuromancer, by William Gibson

Neuromancer is an interesting book – I had to go through most of it twice before I cottoned on to what the plot was.

Neuromancer

Normally, this would be a major issue for me. After all, shouldn’t it be fairly obvious what a book’s plot is? But actually, the novel’s randomness and its refusal to answer questions works well with its themes: just as the main character can sometimes not distinguish between reality and what is happening in his own head, so it takes you, as a reader, a while to understand what is going on. And, by a while, I mean most of the book.

The novel is set in a future world in which virtual reality has grown to become a much more immersive experience. It follows Case, a young ex-computer hacker  who had his central nervous system (which is essential for working in the matrix), damaged by some previous employers he had robbed. He is searching for a way to repair that damage so that he can return to the matrix, but this seems to be an impossible feat.

MatrixCode

Not *that* Matrix! (a little bit that Matrix)

Luckily for him, he is hired by an ex-army man who wants him for “a job” (exactly what the job is is, I think, never really specified at the time). The man in question is incredibly wealthy and has the resources to fix his broken systems, as well as take him around the world, and into orbit, in order to complete the job he’s been chosen for.

Gibson’s imagination, in creating the various cities and space habitats that litter his universe, is admirable and intricate, and the book is worth reading for his descriptions of future styles and mores. The novel’s characters have the strange, slightly disconnected feel to them that I have often noticed  in high science-fiction, and which can be a bit of a turn-off (if you’re looking for people to have feelings of happiness, love, or motivations beyond themselves, this is not the novel for you).

 

The Castle in Transylvania, by Jules Verne

I found this delightful little book when I was wandering aimlessly around the Forum library in Norwich. The Forum is fantastic, by the way, and if you live in the East of England (or are visiting) it is well worth going to.

It kind of looks like a glass aircraft hangar

It kind of looks like a glass aircraft hangar

In any case, the book confused me at first. I haven’t read any Jules Verne before, but I was pretty convinced that he wrote science fiction. And yet, here was I, reading a book with a title that sounds like gothic horror, with a plot that reads like gothic horror, and with characters who could only belong in a gothic horror story.

To be fair, most of what I know about Verne comes from Hark! A Vagrant

To be fair, most of what I know about Verne comes from Hark! A Vagrant

The Castle in Transylvania is very short, and I will try not to give too much of the plot away. It takes place in a village in Transylvania, which is near to an abandoned castle. The villagers maintain all of their superstitions, which include a deeply-rooted fear of the castle. None of the villagers would dare to go near it.

Also, it takes six hours to get there.

Also, it takes six hours to get there.

That is, until the local shepherd notices that there is smoke coming from inside the castle. He becomes convinced that the castle is inabited by spirits. A forester and the local doctor (who has always pretended to be immune from the villagers’ superstitions) go to find out what is going on – with dire consequences.

I really loved this book. It’s a fairly easy and quick read, with some pretty standard gothic themes. However, the twist at the end makes it all rather wonderful. If you can find a copy, definitely go for it.

Also *SPOILERS* it’s not actually a gothic horror story. It’s science fiction. I knew I could depend on Verne.

Yay for Jules Verne!

Yay for Jules Verne!

The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick is one of the great science fiction writers of the last century, and it is easy to see why. He created loads of different worlds, both futuristic and contemporary, for readers to enjoy, which (like all good science fiction) reflect back on our society. At least two of his books, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and A Scanner Darkly have been made into films. Today’s review, The Man in the High Castle, won a Hugo award in 1963 for best novel. I want to stress from the outset that I admire Philip K. Dick and his work a great deal. But for some reason The Man in the High Castle  just was not for me.

The Man in the High Castle
The premise of the novel is very interesting. It is set in an alternate universe in which the Axis powers won WWII. America has been divided between the Germans and the Japanese, with a small buffer zone in the mountains. There are several different plotlines going on: more political ones including a German man who is attempting to give German secrets to the Japanese, and very everyday ones such as an antiques dealer who realises that many of the antiques he has been sold are fakes. In addition, many of the characters refer to a book within the book, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, by Hawthorne Abendsen. This novel is supposed to be about an alternate reality to the one in the novel, in which the Allies won the war, but in a different way to that which actually happened. Meta.

You can tell a lot of people like this book by the work that has gone into mapping it out.

You can tell a lot of people like this book by the work that has gone into mapping it out.

I found a lot of things about the novel interesting. For one, the majority of the action happens in the Japanese section of America, rather than the nazi-occupied section. This was quite interesting to me partly because in the UK we tend to learn a lot more about the European aspects of the war and partly because it is a culture which I am just starting to learn things about, and would very much like to know more. Philip K. Dick also places a lot of emphasis on the I Ching’s ability to tell the future. In this universe, it works, and the characters who use it have absolute confidence in it.

However, I had some problems with the novel. It follows the tendency of some science fiction to make all reality quite bleak: none of the characters seem to have actual relationships with one another, instead using one another to obtain their own desires. I would suggest this is due to the cultural differences which are being imposed upon the characters, but it is no different with Julia Frink, a character set in the US zone, and it is a style which the author has also used in the other book of his I have read, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. This makes it quite hard for me to have empathy for the characters; they feel more like chess pieces than people.

The ending also felt very rushed and a little confusing. It is difficult to tell whether, by the end of the novel, anything is actually achieved, or whether the author merely intended to give his readers a glimpse into this world.