Science Fiction Quadruple Feature

The Future Has Arrived...

I finished reading William Gibson's The Peripheral a few minutes ago. I know it's awfully late, but I couldn't put it down. I have no idea if it's the best William Gibson book, but it might well be my favorite. Stylistically, it's Gibson at his best. He introduces readers to their world by making us listen to the characters and watch how they interact with the world instead of just telling us what's happening. It's risky, and not every author can pull it off, but when it's done right, it's thrilling to piece the puzzle together. 

I think of Gibson's novels as moving in the arc of a highly eccentric orbit. As the story approaches its climax, its perihelion, so much is happening so fast that you can't really take it in as it happens. Instead, you see what took place at the critical moment clearly only in hindsight. With The Peripheral, I was as confused as the characters in some places, but what really makes the book work, for me, is the characters strong and relate-able. Gibson's long been one of my favorite novelists, but The Peripheral is on another level, elevating his considerable-strengths to new heights. 

It's also a blast to read, which is probably the best thing I can say about any book.

Fair Day

Just like with China Mieville, reading William Gibson messes with your perspective. That's especially true when your city is in the process of temporarily transforming itself into a carnival ground for arts and technology. Weirdly, some of the tech and arts installations overlap, but most do not, and there's only so much space and even less time. This means that some spaces will be one thing on one day and then rebuilt into something else the next.

In the past, this meant different tents with some cheaply printed vinyl signs featuring highly stylized logos for companies that didn't quite exist yet or artistic properties that whose sphere of awareness could be measured in hundreds of yards. Now, though, we-meaning-humanity have become much better are creating temporary spaces which give the illusion of having always been there. Reasonable facsimiles of granite pedestals surrounding six foot cubes of LED screens appear overnight in parks and expensive-looking neon signs are set on the front of buildings which have been abandoned for years but are suddenly a physical beachhead of a web-based company's corporate culture. 

While the exhibitors have evolved an impressive ability to work with massive volumes on abbreviated timescales, the city is nowhere near up to the task. Let's talk about burst infrastructure for a moment: When you are paying the outlandish convenience fees to get tickets to a show, what you're paying for is the ticket seller's having to maintain the capacity to sells tens of thousands of tickets in a minute or so when a big event goes on sale. The value they add is the ability to scale up their system by a couple of factors of ten for a what is probably less than one hour out of each month. 

Most cities cannot do this. They cannot afford to build infrastructure that will only be needed for a few weeks each year. Roads are the first systems to fail, but law enforcement, connectivity (yes, even old landline phones but especially wireless), public transit, and even food and beverage distribution are disrupted. People who rely on these services are either forced to move elsewhere during the events, or else they're severely inconvenienced. Some cities can get away with becoming convention cities and hosting events year round, thereby justifying (and, in theory, paying for) the increased capacity.

Why yes, my office is at ground zero. Why do you ask?

Rocket Talk

Keith Law is one of my favorite media personalities. He's best known as the only reason most baseball fans pay for Insider access on ESPN's web site. He's one of the few people I actually enjoying disagreeing with because Mr. Law is both clear and rational in both his thinking and his writing. When we disagree, oftentimes it is because I'm wrong, but even if I stick to my guns, I can understand and respect his position.

In addition to his baseball work, he keeps a blog where he writes (mostly) about board games, books, food, and music. Not only these subject relevant to my interests, but I've found that our tastes are more often than not similar*. This is a long way of saying that if you find me at all interesting, you'll probably like Keith Law and you can check out his blog here.

So, you can imagine my delight when I saw he was going to be featured on the Rocket Talk science-fiction podcast. An hour of Keith talking about sci-fi books? Yes, please! There were some nice words about a couple of novels I read last year and enjoyed a great deal: Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven and John Scalzi's Redshirts, an interesting bit on what the genre means, and Mr. Law's progress towards his goal of reading all of the Hugo Award winning novels. It's worth your time if you're in to this sort of thing. It's also interesting for what is hinted at but remains unsaid, which leads us to...

I'm All For "Crying Havoc," But...

I'm a Hugo Awards voter again this year. I won't be attending MidAmericaCon II, but I am signed up to vote. There should be significantly less catch-up work required when I get my voter's packet this time as I've done a good deal more reading in the genre over the last year. I'm hoping that the ugliness that marred last year's voting won't be around this time, but I'm not holding my breath. 

-RK

 

* I mean, he even had Gorillaz' "19-2000 (Soulchild Remix)" on his top songs on the 2000s. That's solid.