Cyberpunk

The other night I watched this documentary, No Maps for These Territories. It’s an interview with William Gibson, who pretty much invented the Cyberpunk sub-genre of science fiction. There were some other author involved, but after watching this documentary and reflecting on my own readings of Gibson’s Burning Chrome anthology and his Sprawl Trilogy, I realized that in my mind that stuff IS cyberpunk. Gibson’s vision is it.

Anything else I’ve read that had the “cyberpunk” label attached has been at least a little disappointing. I think Gibson’s vision is so rich and so deep that for anyone else to really do what he did, well, they’d just be seen as copying him.

One of the best histories of the genesis of cyberpunk appears in Victoria Blake’s introduction to Cyberpunk: Stories of Hardware, Software, Wetware, Evolution, and Revolution.

The only thing I’ve seen that really visually looks like Cyberpunk is Blade Runner. Gibson has said that he was writing Neuromancer when Blade Runner came out, and he was afraid people would think he simply copied Ridley Scott. Apparently the more recent Netflix series Altered Carbon takes its visual style from Blade Runner. You can’t overemphasize the impact of Blade Runner. Everything else I’ve seen, including the film adaptation of Gibson’s short story Johnny Mnemonic, look like over the top Duran Duran videos.

Not sure where I’m going with this. To sum up. I like the novels of William Gibson, I like Blade Runner, I will check out Altered Carbon.

Science Fiction Novels

As I may have written here before (I honestly can’t remember and don’t feel like looking) for the last several years I’ve been going back and reading science fiction novels from the 70s and 80s. Typically I’ve been reading standalone novels, not series.

Those novels tend to be a bit simpler in form. When I get off work I’m tired, and I don’t need a novel to be that much an intellectual effort to understand. Some of my favorite novels, like William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy, require that you really immerse yourself in the novel. That’s great, but when I’m tired sometimes I just want the author to tell me what happened.

That being said, read the Sprawl trilogy.

I discovered Robert Silverberg in the Infinite Stars anthology of space opera. His tale “the Iron Star” was brilliant, and I became an instant fan. I’ve read three or four of his other novels since then. They are great stuff. The Iron Star offered an ethical conundrum, and I was just blown away.

I feel like as you go back through the decades the SF gets a bit more basic, and not as well written, but Silverberg is really good. I read a few H. Beam Piper novels (not the Little Fuzzy books), including the Cosmic Computer and the unfortunately-titled “Space Viking“.  They were fun reads, though every time I read the term Space Viking I rolled my eyes. Great fodder for my Traveller science fiction game campaign. It was funny knowing that Piper was an early libertarian going into these novels (thank you Wikipedia), and then seeing his political leanings in the novels.  I do like to read a bit about the authors I’m reading, and sorta know where they are coming from, and where the novels fall in their careers.

I mentioned Traveller. One of the primary influences on the Traveller RPG were the Dumarest of Terra novels, by English author E.C. Tubb. These are what I’d call “pulp” style SF adventures. Space Opera for sure. Short novels, formulaic in many respects. There are about 32 in the series, and I’m currently reading #17. Now, my intro to science fiction was Doc Savage. As a young teen I read about 70 of those. I have to say, while the Dumarest novels are not the most sophisticated SF you will find, Tubb can write a proper sentence. They are pretty well written, and they are fun. Now, they are novels of their time.  The hero, Earl Dumarest, is a typical hero of the era, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a female character of any real consequence. They all tend to be Earl’s love interest, which means they will be dead soon. Overall, I would say the novels exhibit the chauvinism of their time, but I’ve not seen them go into straight-up misogyny. Which is nice, because I’d stop reading them. Would they be better if there some female characters to be reckoned with? Yes. No doubt.

Which brings me to my most recent reads, Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion, by Dan Simmons. Not simple. Not short.

Now people love to go on and on about how great Dune is. I enjoy the Dune novels. They are deep and they are good. I enjoyed these two Hyperion novels more. If it means anything to you, these novels are Dune-level good.  They are deep and multilayered. There’s a lot going on. There’s stuff in them, and they were written in the late 80s/early 90s, that is way ahead of their time. They are long. Each is over 500 pages. I’m a slow reader, so that is a time investment for me. Totally worth it. Great stuff. After reading each one I listened to them on audio books to enhance the experience. So, so good.

I’ve got a good stack of books to read, and a good virtual stack on my Kindle. More later.

 

Meet my new best friend…

…the Clorox Toilet Wand.

Disposable, cleaner-infused cleaning heads, shaped where they can actually get under the rim of the toilet and get all up in that nasty splatter matter that wants to hide from you. You know what I’m talking about. That stuff that comes out of you and defies the laws of physics like the JFK magic bullet? Yeah, that stuff.  This thing cleans like a glorious bastard!

When you are done, you pull that cleaning head off the wand and throw it away, and put the wand in its handy holder. No nasty brush that has just cleaned up pee and dookie (in all its forms), sitting in a nasty holder full of nasty pee/poop water.

Now, is the disposable cleaning head wasteful? Yes. Good for the environment? No. Do I care? Yes. Do I care enough not to use this device? No. Not even close. Not – even – close.

The Clorox Toilet Wand, sitting cleanly in its clean holder, after its first use, not a shit particle on it. GENIUS! Yes, those are cleaning heads inside the older.

Black & White TV

When I was a kid my parents brought home a beat up old B&W television from my grandparents’ house. It might have been from my aunt Trish and Uncle Don. Whatever. Looked like it was from the early 1960s or even late 50s. Probably an RCA. We had it back in the “recreation room”, so-named because of my dad’s original plan to put a pool table back there, which never quite happened, so it served the same purpose that a basement does in many homes up north. By that, I mean it was where all my shit was. My train layout on plywood. My 2 gerbil habitats. My aquarium full of goldfish and my other fish bowls, all with a network of aeration tubing, my supplies and card table for building plastic models.

The Spindrift spaceship from Land of the Giants, under attack!

The TV sat on the “old” coffee table. The one I had carved on and just generally messed up as a small child. Theoretically we had five normal channels and at least one UHF channel in North Dallas. In practice,  with a 20 year old television with rabbit ears, the number of channels available depended on a number of factors, including tuning, position of the rabbit ears, the weather, and how I held my body.

Sunday afternoon was typically a sci-fi afternoon on Channel 11. In no particular order, one could watch Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, the Time Tunnel, and Land of the Giants. Yes, the great Irwin Allen owned the airwaves in that glorious time.

The Time Tunnel, which I’d realized years later drew design inspiration from the classic SF film, Forbidden Planet.

At risk of using the word “shit” again in this post, let me simply say that TV was a piece of shit, but I was lucky to have it. LUCKY. And APPRECIATIVE. As many of you “sports fans” are aware, Sunday afternoon is also a big day for televised sports. In fact, while I’ve not done my research and have no empirical evidence, I’d guess that there has not been a Sunday afternoon in the last 70 years (maybe more) without televised sports on all afternoon. So regardless the time of year, there was exactly a ZERO percent chance I’d be able to watch any of these shows on the color TV. So that black & white TV was my lifeline to true culture (space ships and creatures and weird ideas).

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. The Flying Sub leaving the nuclear submarine Seaview.

So I’d sit back there, on the floor, and periodically reposition the antenna, curse (quietly), and watch those shows and/or various monster and science fiction movies. I was compelled. That’s how human beings are. What we dig, we dig, and we don’t really care about much else. I have been drawn to science fiction and imagination since I was a small child. The cartoons I liked when I was really young, like 4 years old,  tended to be SF-related.  Might have something to do with the decade I was born into. Space exploration was starting up. All that stuff was big. Frankenstein Junior and the Herculoids were my favorites. Robots, alien worlds, and creatures.

Frankenstein Junior

The Herculoids

In retrospect, it was actually great.

That room was my domain. It was, indeed, a recreation room, but it was MY recreation room. When I started skateboarding, in the winter I’d practice tricks back there on the linoleum floor. My mom never even got on my case for it. Even then, I still used that TV. There was still a lot of SF to watch, and still a lot of sports on TV.