Monday, December 29, 2014

Everything you see here happens

When I was still in food service I got people telling me that I had to see Waiting ... pretty much all the time. The really odd thing was that a lot of customers told me I had to see the movie, which is really strange now that I've seen it.

Disclaimer! - I have never put body fluids or hair into someone's food. Buuuuuuuuuut yes I have seen food service workers participate in five-second-rule style shenanigans if a particularly awful customer is involved. What's more likely is that you'll just get shitty service and less/worse food - we know which bagels are the most stale, we know which espresso has been sitting out the longest, we know which milk might be in the process of turning and THAT'S what you get if you treat people like shit. Probably nothing that will actually make you sick, just something bad enough to discourage you from coming back. We'd also overcharge the hell out of people for being assholes. If you were cool and wanted something like a caramel macciato (not a real drink, btw, at least not the way you think it is) we'd just charge you for a latte or maybe a mocha. If you were an asshole you'd get charged for a latte, plus a vanilla shot, plus a caramel shot, plus whipped cream, plus caramel drizzle, plus a charge for an extra shot of espresso if you were particularly heinous so an approximately three dollar drink became a five-dollar-plus drink. Occasionally if you're just a terrible, reprehensible, cruel person who dehumanizes other people you're running the same risks that terrible people always run but now you're doing it with people who are paid to deal with sharp/hot things and things that you put in your body.

I once had a customer who asked me for a drink extra-hot (this lady came into my shop regularly and had a history of calling baristas liars and idiots and letting her horrid grandson run around dropping ice cream on everything then demanding another ice cream because his "fell onto the ground" and speaking to the manager if we wouldn't give him three free ice creams): I steamed the drink until it was literally boiling, which I knew because it boiled over on my hand and gave me a 2nd-degree burn, and without touching the cup (but after watching me burn myself and literally hearing me scream) she told me it wasn't hot enough and she wanted me to re-steam it before I left to ice/apply first aid to my blistering hand. So I "accidentally" knocked the cup over in her direction and it splashed off her nice leather jacket and she screamed at me and I ended up not being able to use my hand for a week and refusing her service ever after. And I had a few people tell me I should have spit in her drink instead of spilling it on her. I couldn't bring myself to do something like that to this horrid customer even after my hand had started to blister, but I know that plenty of the food service workers in that town had no such qualms, so Ryan Reynolds' line about "Rule number one, never fuck with people who handle your food" is a pretty fucking serious rule and one that I would advise everyone to take to heart.

Not every food service worker is going to drop your steak on the floor then dust it with dandruff if you're rude to them (in fact the vast majority won't) but treating servers like shit is a good way to get stale food, cold food, the wrong drink, and a long wait. And don't bring tips into this - servers expect about 15% (and have every right to - if you can't afford to tip you can't afford to eat out) but if you start treating a server like shit they realize that you're not going to tip them anyway so they might as well make sure they never want to get seated in their section or even come back to that restaurant again.

But anyway, back to the movie.

The flick is full of gross-out humor and day-to-day drama that is actually endearing and makes all of the characters look charming and lost as they muddle through their minimum wage jobs. Ryan Reynolds is in a role that's perfect for him - a good-looking asshole with no depth who makes you laugh and feel skeezy in equal measure. Justin Long is also playing a very Justin Long-y type character - they seem to have stopped making movies about affable geeks with hot girlfriends and self-awareness some time in 2011 and I miss those movies - who's likeable enough but not terribly interesting. Dane Cook is in the movie too, which is actually a huge part of why I didn't see it until nine years after its release, but don't hold him against the film - he almost doesn't register.

This is a fun, stupid, cheaply-made but well written and acted little film. It does a great job of showing what a night of food service looks like to someone stuck in that sort of job and floundering, and it reminds us all about the terrible, fun, disgusting minimum wage jobs we had when we were first learning to be grownups. The fact that it's 75% fresh from Rotten Tomatoes Audiences but only 31% from Rotten Tomatoes Critics suggests to me that either most movie critics have never had a real job or that they've never had to grow up - don't let a poor critical reaction keep you from watching this if you're looking for some sympathy for your customer-service job.

     - Alli

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Happily Hobbit-y

I've been lukewarm on The Hobbit Trilogy. I don't think it needed to be broken out into three movies, there's a lot of awkward stuff that doesn't seem to fit the story because it wasn't in the original story, and the visuals just aren't up to par when compared to LotR. That being said, The Battle of Five Armies is the best film of the bunch and I think it's truest to the source material, with a few pretty important caveats.

I really dislike the Tauriel/Kili plot line because it seems completely gratuitous (much like the Aragorn/Eowyn/Arwen love triangle in LotR) - that's not to say that I don't like Tauriel at all: having an ass-kicking female elf in the series adds some balance, but having most of the discussions surrounding her be about whether or not she will be allowed to marry Legolas or if she is or is not in love with Kili cheapens her character. She's the captain of the guard, has risen to that position in spite of the odd caste system Thranduil has imposed, and she kills a metric fuck-ton of bad guys. And **SPOILER ALERTS** I hate that she's damseled at the end of the battle. She's been kicking ass and killing things left and right and then she can't take down a single orc and has to be saved by both Kili and Legolas, which ends up causing Kili's death. I mean, I knew that Kili dies in the book and that he wasn't going to make it out of the movie alive but I didn't realize that they'd have him make the hero's noble sacrifice to protect this frail lady-elf who got in over her pretty little head. Fuck that. I'd rather not have the character in the series than have her act as a prize to be won and the root source of Legolas's jealousy and dislike of dwarves. But for all of that it's still incredibly moving to watch her mourn Kili.

I'd also like to point out that neither dwarves nor orcs are stupid - having them stage a duel on ice is idiotic. These are supposed to be brilliant warriors, and having a fight on a frozen waterfall is not the sort of thing that brilliant warriors do when there's lots of nice, stable, grippy stone around for them to use as a battlefield.

Other than that the action in the film was pretty damned good and a lot less ridiculous than in either of the two previous films. There was no cartoonish chase through goblin tunnels or flippy-dippy-floaty battle/chase down a river. There was a fairly well-staged (though oddly paced) gigantic battle with five armies. We got what we were promised and that was nice.

Also nice was the proper development of the Thorin/Bilbo relationship - that felt very true to the novel to me and was heartwrenching at the end. I'm not going to lie, I cried when Bilbo tried to tell Thorin that the eagles were coming. Martin Freeman did a great job of getting the audience into that scene and making us feel the character's pain. **END SPOILER ALERTS**

Overall I liked the movie, and I'd be happy to watch the whole series again, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have some problems. It's a fun world to participate in in spite of its imperfections.

     - Alli

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Kiss kiss fuck yes

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is one of those movies that I always meant to see and never got around to. Finally last week it was one of the movies on my sister's movie advent calendar and we sat down to watch it on our typical Tuesday family hangout.

The film is an odd combination of perfect polish and shoddy construction - I think at least part of the shoddiness is intentional to help undermine the unreliable narrator but there's something about the production that was nonetheless visually revolting for me. But, fortunately, that was the only thing about the movie that I didn't like.

Val Kilmer was hilarious and stole every scene he was in. Robert Downey Jr. played an affable, hateable, loveable idiot and I thought he was great. The story is tremendously goofy and played for laughs while still having a good heart and some decent drama.

I think it was the over-the-topness that I really appreciated the most. The good lines were SO good, the bad pulp drama was SO bad, LA was SO, SO, SO LA that you can practically smell the car exhaust and hear the pages of unfinished screenplays rattling through every scene.

No wait, my favorite thing was the way that Robert Downey Jr. was getting his ass kicked constantly. That was the best thing about the movie. It was great to see a "hero" character who lost every single physical confrontation and was not above complaining about it. The fact that even RDJ's injuries were over-the-top was just a nice garnish on a nice little story.

     - Alli

Supposed to be somebody

I don't think I waited long enough to re-read this book All the other Gibson novels I've gone through this month have languished on shelves for years since I read them, but The Peripheral is barely two months old and I've already gone through it twice.

It doesn't suffer in the re-reading, it's remarkably clear and the writing is lovely throughout, but the drama is tarnished because I didn't wait long enough to forget what was going to happen.

But I have at least been able to ferret out a better understanding of who the characters are and what they're doing. This immediate rereading really opened me up to liking Wilf a lot more than I did the first time through - his unacknowledged exhaustion with the world he's living in is much more poignant when it's not overwhelmed with concern for the plot. I got to do more detailed study this time around instead of frenzied glossing over to figure out what was happening and, honestly, The Peripheral is full of stunning and haunting details.

I'm also completely fascinated by Gibson's uncanny ability to not only spin whole worlds out of nothing but to also make them immediately identifiable, understandable, and acceptable to the reader. I got a little lost with the language of fab and funny in my first reading of the first few chapters, but they were entrenched in my vocabulary by the second time I went through the story. I was similarly accepting of Ash's doubled pupils and rambling tattoos as prosaic when they'd seemed needlessly fantastic on my first reading. In this way the reader mirrors Flynne's journey - she has trouble finding her feet when she first uses the peripheral but catches up quickly and finds a home in London just as we stumble over unfamiliar language and concepts at first but then begin catching up and then begin adoring the world we've fallen into.

I almost never know what I'm going to write in these blogs until I write them, but writing this now I'm actually pretty surprised by how much I really enjoy The Peripheral, and how much I'm considering re-reading it when I get home tonight. I won't, because I want to wait for the mystery to build, but I'll think about it and the ability of Gibson's to write that kind of repeatability is just phenomenal.

     - Alli

Gibson, William. The Peripheral. Putnam. New York: New York. 2014. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

All future

There's an oddly distorted pattern in these trilogies: they start with a crescendo in the first novel, build to another, and then fizzle out when it comes time to close. The second novel in the series usually seems more like a part one for the third novel than a book that stands on its own, and the third one always has something completely awesome that happens toward the middle instead of at the end. I guess the Bridge Trilogy escapes that pattern because it has the burning of the bridge at the end of the third book, but the Blue Ant Trilogy has this same semi-disappointing pattern.

As usual with Gibson Zero History isn't bad so much as it's unfulfilled. Yes, there's a big cathartic action scene and we're given the wrap-up with all our favorite characters. But it almost feels like we're looking at the wrong characters. By the end of the book I don't care so much about Hollis and Garreth, I'm more interested in finding out everything there is to know about Heidi. She's set up as this frustrating blank character in Spook Country but then usurps the place of main character in Zero History but you still don't know much about her aside from her horrible taste in men and her ability to kick absolute ass.

But probably the most irksome thing about Zero History is that the nothing-happens-but-everything-changes bit at the end doesn't give us the money shot with everything changing. In the Sprawl Trilogy we see that humans and AI are starting to become interchangeable intelligences, in the Bridge Trilogy we get a shot of Rei Toei walking out of Lucky Dragons all over the world, but in the Blue Ant Trilogy all you're left with is the vague sense that Bigend doesn't know what he's doing but controls the world anyway. It's disconcerting as all fuck (probably intentionally) but it doesn't have the same sense of reality or possibility or hope that the other trilogies sign off on.

Maybe that has to do with what Zero History is all about - there is no history, history is dead and it's a fiction anyway, so all we can do is look to the future and the future is (as it ever is) vague and vaguely unsettling.

     - Alli

Gibson, William. Zero History. Putnam. New York: New York. 2010.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Spooks, haunts, and Rivers

I'm like 85% positive that the old man is Win Pollard. The description of him as looking like William S. Burroughs is passing in both novels but the security background and rage that the old man has about the security community reaction to 9/11 fit for me. And I don't think that ruins Pattern Recognition like a lot of online Gibson fans seem to think - why wouldn't Win contact his family after surviving the towers? Because as an old spook he'd know that shit was about to go seriously sideways in a way that would be incredibly unpleasant for his family to be connected with and after it had gone sideways he started committing major, treasonous felonies. Both seem like good reasons to keep his adult daughter out of the loop and let her grieve.

But anyway.

/spoiler alert.

Locative art as it's presented here is a fascinating exploration of just how fast technology changes these days. Look at Ingress now and compare it to this seven-year-old novel and the novel feels disastrously dated. For all of that, it's still fascinating. The things that people would choose to present, the ways that Gibson proposes for the technology to be used, Bigend's ongoing complete misunderstanding of the way the world works (and still being able to wrest money from that misunderstanding) are all captivating.

Hollis is a bit of a blank, though. It's hard for me to connect to her here, it feels like there's not much to see. She's distractingly passive at times and seems to have little to no agency. That sort of thing is understandable with Milgrim and Tito because Milgrim is a captive and Tito had been trained his whole life to function as a cog in a greater machine, but Hollis is supposed to be a rock star (even if that's behind her now). You'd expect a little more get-up-and-go but it really just isn't there.

I know Hollis is the main character here, but in this particular novel it's Milgrim's story that I want to read. His uneasy and coerced relationship with brown is the most cathartic part of the story for me, and he's the character whose head I think we get inside of the most.

As a side note, this book's been out for seven years. Augmented reality is a thing now. Somebody get on this, because The Viper Room is still missing its River.

     - Alli

Gibson, William. Spook Country. Putnam. New York: New York. 2007.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Patterns and mysteries

Since I started rereading Gibson I've been waiting for Cayce to headbutt the living shit out of an Italian in Japan and it's still as cathartic as it ever was.

Pattern Recognition is a difficult book to describe because so much of the texture (and even true content) of the novel seems to be made up by, well, pattern recognition. Making an audience read precisely the random noise that the author wants them to is a peculiar and brilliant gift that Gibson has, and when you've submersed yourself in his writing you start picking up on the phrases you know will be important and following them before he's done more than make a passing reference to an object or a concept.

I'm torn as to whether Pattern Recognition or Neuromancer is my favorite Gibson novel because they're very different books that nonetheless have a lot in common. What Pattern Recognition has that is very different than all of Gibson's other novels is a unified voice. There's one narrative here; the book doesn't go dancing around or bouncing through a cluster of disparate characters, it starts, stays, and finishes in the voice and from the perspective of Cayce Pollard. I don't think this particular narrative technique makes the book better or worse than any of Gibson's other books, but it does make it easier for me to identify with Cayce and to understand her fears and motivations. In particular I don't think Cayce's allergy to advertising would have been nearly as completely explored (and therefore as impressive) if we'd had to look through several sets of eyes to see the story.

The novel feels like a shift on Gibson's writing, a movement to something that hadn't been in his stories since the very early parts of Neuromancer and choice bits of Burning Chrome. Pattern Recognition isn't a far-future romp, it's not really a story about hackers, but it seems to be looking at NOW as a new frontier and is fascinating in a way that makes the whole world novel after you're finished reading.

As a side note, I think the book is also one of the very first (and very few) post-9/11 stories that does a very good job of dealing with the implications of a national tragedy with tact and foresight that allow the book to be perhaps more relevant now than when it was published.

     - Alli

Gibson, William. Pattern Recognition. Berkley Books. New York: New York. 2005. (2003)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Practically perfect in every way

That Thing You Do! is a great movie. It's charming, it's witty, it's sweet. There's drama and music and laughter. It's far more perfect than should be allowed - there's not a single scene I would change or a single song that isn't pitch-perfect.

What I really love about this adorable little film is that it's a happy, cheery movie that is entertaining without being clownish and sweet without being schmaltzy. The clothing is wonderful, the characters are wonderful, the sets are wonderful, and the story is wonderful. Everything about this movie is charming and I'm delighted to be continually charmed by it.

Some of the more brilliant elements are the quieter parts of the story: not the band up on stage performing in front of screaming fans, but a phone call with the drummer's frustrated father; not the witty repartee of a bunch of jet-setters flying to LA but the conversation between two suburbanites walking down the street. Those are the brilliant bits of the flick - the little passing moments between people that we as an audience are able to simultaneously feel are completely realistic and natural but at the same time enjoy the timing and humor created by our distance from the era when the movie takes place. Mr. Patterson's complaint about the competing electronics store staying open on Sunday is funny not only because it's such a prototypical Dad thing to say in a prototypical Mom/Dad interaction but because we live in a world where it's unthinkable that an appliance store would be closed on Sundays. The film's version of Eerie PA is uncannily unfamiliar and dated but also feels like it could be two blocks over from wherever you're sitting right now. The movie does an impeccable job of being modern while still being a good representation of the time it's set in - it tries so hard (and succeeds) to make us want to visit its world while gently reminding us that it wasn't a very nice place to live in, all while never being nasty or overtly dramatic.

That Thing You Do! was the first feature film that Hanks directed (his second and so far last, Larry Crowne, is...let's say less charming) and is a wonderful effort on his part. Everyone in it turns in a great performance, the visuals are lovely and transporting, and the sound track is phenomenally rad.

     - Alli

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Creepy crawler

My husband was out of town at the same time my mother and sister went on a quick trip to Vegas, so my dad and I were on our own for a couple of days. We solved this problem by watching a lot of movies, which is an excellent way to solve lots of problems, in my opinion.

I don't know that I'd actually seen a full preview for Nightcrawler before I went in to the theater, which is probably a good thing because it's a fairly nuanced film that would be difficult to communicate in a two minute trailer.

I was a journalism major for a while. Nightcrawler touches on several of the reasons that I stopped majoring in journalism - media intruding on grief and pain, the "if it bleeds it leads" mentality that is especially prevalent in TV news, and the slow degradation of journalistic ethics as amateurs started to participate in the fifth estate. The film also explores isolation, manipulation, and straight-up creepy ass motherfuckers.

Jake Gyllenhaal is fantastic in the movie, but so is literally every other person you see on screen. No one over or underplays anything - they all hit their marks perfectly. The screenplay seems like it would be a lovely thing to read; there are vast stretches of silence where we can't tell what's going on or why it's happening but only have to experience what the characters in those scenes are experiencing: tension, confusion, and a grim determination to move forward. The art direction is stunning as well, set off by jaw-dropping cinematography that manages to delicately capture blue morning light above a shabby neighborhood as well as swerving and streaking neons in a brutally intense chase scene.

I honestly can't think of a single criticism (constructive or not) of this film - it's rare and perfect and sharp and frightening and I'm so glad I got to see it.

     - Alli

Monday, December 8, 2014

Hector and the search for Walter Mitty

I really enjoy Simon Pegg. If you were to call me up and invite me over to watch the Cornetto trilogy right now I'd probably say yes because I'm ALWAYS down for SotD and Hot Fuzz. Run, Fatboy, Run is a really sweet and entertaining film that I like an awful lot. I even follow Simon Pegg on twitter (one of the maybe thirty people that's true of). So my dissatisfaction with Hector and the Search for Happiness doesn't have anything to do with an aversion to Pegg or to the delightful Rosamund Pike, and everything to do with the fact that I saw this movie last year, only then it had Ben Stiller in it and was much better made.

I feel like someone edited out a pretty hefty chunk of HatSfH. Something has gone missing that might make this a better movie, or at least would make it a more distinct movie. That something almost certainly has to do with the dog that keeps popping up, unexplained, throughout the film and probably has to do with the numerous sightings of a young Hector.

My dad (who took me to see the film with him this weekend) and I were discussing it and I said that it was like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty without the fantasy scenes while still trying to be a fantasy movie. Dad didn't think it was trying to be a fantasy but I disagree: we're treated to regular hallucinations and a degree of coincidence that is incredible. These things would make sense if we knew the movie was a fantasy, as would the bookending voice-over that is otherwise somewhat disconcerting.

I feel like we're missing the establishing shot of Hector's personality. Yes, we see (and are told) that he's dull and relies on routine and is stuck in a rut; but we're never given any insight into his photographic recollection of Tintin or his fixation on aviation both of which actually make sense if you just introduce the film with a childhood obsession with the comic and let that (instead of only two visual allusions) set the template for the film. Because, you see, if a viewer doesn't know anything about Tintin (which I essentially don't) the movie is jarring and a bit ridiculous. If, however, you know that Tintin is a story about the adventures of a boy and his dog investigating and having adventures, HatSfH starts to make sense as an homage.

I didn't hate this movie, it wasn't absolutely awful, it just wasn't very good. Simon Pegg was tolerable but toned down from the brash, clueless characters who have made up the bulk of his career. Toni Colette's four total minutes of screen time were acted pretty well but ultimately out of place. Rosamund Pike was charming and actually probably one of the better constructed characters. But none of it hung together well, and the story was stretched out over a frame of spiritual tourism that I find more than slightly repellent. Yes, China is a place. Tibet is a place. Africa is a giant, huge, massive, culturally diverse place and you might want to narrow down where in Africa you're talking about because South Africa and Chad are pretty goddamned different, y'know? These are all places where real people live and have their own conflicts at home and touching on human trafficking in China, or holy shit everything in the history of Tibet, or disease, kidnapping, and militarization in some generalized "Africa" as points on a white man's journey to find happiness without taking time to show Chinese or Tibetans or Africans dealing with these issues as characters rather than set-pieces is short-sighted. Hector might find more happiness if he took the time to actually learn about the people he meets instead of taking touristy snapshots and setting up a satellite dish at a monastery (where the head monk's character is known, according to the credits, as Old Monk). There is one notable exception to this pattern: on his flight from somewhere in Africa to LA he ends up assisting a terminally ill woman as she makes her way home to visit her sister; he questions her and gets close to her and most importantly LISTENS to her, and recognizes the vast difference between her life and his. I could have done with some more of that. I don't need abject misery at all times, but recognition that those little human dramas are, in fact, dramatic and that all of those people Hector met have their own story somewhere inside would be nice.


     - Alli

Onrushing weight

Chevette is one of my top five favorite Gibson characters, with Molly, Cayce, Hollis, and Kumiko generally filling in the other spots. It's really telling that many of Gibson's stories are written from what is primarily a male perspective but the women and girls in the stories become the real heroes and badasses. That's a huge part of why I like him, actually: he gives me actual, real, cool role models to aspire to - I only wish I'd found them when I was younger.

Chevette is probably the most realistic cool badass girl in any of Gibson's universes; she starts as a bridge-dweller and bike messenger in Virtual Light and ends up as a woman who is of and not of the bridge in All Tomorrow's Parties. Berry Rydell has no arc in the Bridge Trilogy, and Colin Laney's arc is from researcher to lunatic. Chevette moves from being an isolated and essentially feral child to a self-possessed and prematurely wise young woman with a kick like a mule during the course of the series. She's the one who grows, so she's the one we should be watching.

The bridge itself also undergoes some changes which the audience would do well to note - the way that squatter's paradise is transformed over the course of the trilogy is the same transformation that our current interstitial/liminal world of the internet is being warped and changed right now. In Virtual Light the bridge is mad and dangerous and hard; in All Tomorrow's Parties it's going the way of Times Square - slowly becoming Disneyland in spite of all its history. There's a lot there that's important, a lot to consider about the need for places uninfected by corporations and the need for freedom from industrialized individuality, and even though All Tomorrow's Parties is a product of 1999 it's got a message that is vital in the discussion of net neutrality.

But what's funny is that the message is secondary to the story and the story is secondary to the scenery. All Tomorrow's Parties has some of my all-time favorite Gibson images lurking in its pages, from an old man painting action figures inside of a cardboard box to flashes of an abandoned and cloudy California coastline to the visceral image of the Golden Gate Bridge swathed in flames while people on it try to survive, All Tomorrow's Parties is brimming with haunting images that rattle around behind your eyes and are hard to detach from. It, and really all of the Bridge Trilogy, is beautiful and full of language that renders stunning visuals of things that are hideous and lovely alike.

As a side note, I finished this book the first time through when I was sitting in a dusty gray Jeep in the California desert on my first trip out of town with my husband, who hadn't proposed to me by then. It was a quiet day, warm but getting cool as the sun set, and he had climbed down into a ravine with a friend while I finished my book and listened to the industrial and electronic music he was only just introducing me to. When he got back in the car and I talked to him about my book he put on another mix of music and we drove out of that little canyon listening to Apoptygma Berzerk's cover of Lou Reed's "All Tomorrow's Parties," a coincidence of timing and style that still makes me feel warm and happy and severely creeped out at exactly the same time. This little story doesn't have any meaning, there isn't any purpose to it. But all the same, you should listen to the song in all its incarnations at some point as you read the Bridge Trilogy: it's a perfect soundtrack to the world that Gibson wrote.

     - Alli

Gibson, William. All Tomorrow's Parties. Berkley Books. New York: New York. 2003. (1999)

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Projected desire

I think that I may think Idoru is more hilarious than I'm supposed to. The novel has sadness and suspense in it too, but the delirious absurdity of large parts of the story is too much to be ignored and so I primarily think of it as a funny book. Most of the hilarity has to do with the Lo/Rez fan club and their silly, taken-too-seriously projects, but Laney, Yamazaki, Maryalice, and Keithy have their places in the hierarchy of humor as well.

The book takes place in a Tokyo rebuild by nanotechnology after a tremendously destructive earthquake. Nothing in this book happens on the Bridge, but it shows an alternative response to the same sort of disaster that spawned the Bridge. San Franciscans in this trilogy responded to an earthquake by building a scavenger city, Tokyo responded by rebuilding on a rigid plan but also allowing piss-stained clubs to survive. We're being shown that in spite of the post-global world Gibson is setting up there are still enormous cultural divides that people are unable to cross.

Which may be why Laney has such a rough time of it: not only is he the byproduct of being dosed with a brain-transforming chemical that turns people into psychopathic stalkers, he's moved from LA to Tokyo and can't quite get enough traction to hit the ground running. He's lost unless he's combing through data, and maybe that's what Gibson's trying to say: people are complicated and separated by cultures, but information is above those petty divides.

I guess these novels are supposed to be anti-media, and they largely are, but what they really seem to be is anti-studio: Rei is a media product but she rises above the gross sort of media produced by Slitscan and TV shows like Cops in Trouble. Gibson seems to be advocating for creation over consumption, something that I will never argue against, and I'd love to hear his opinion now on things like TMZ and reality television.

Idoru is a fun, fast read that makes you seriously examine why you believe what you see and how you came to be seeing it in the first place. It's full of people who are fun to read and places that you almost-but-don't-quite want to visit.

     - Alli

Gibson, William. Idoru. Berkley Books. New York. 1997. (1996)

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Proj on

I've never read the Bridge trilogy as a trilogy - I got the books out of order and pieced them together in my head. I haven't read the books in at least five years either, so I'm coming in to them fresh.

Virtual Light is messy and slapdash, but relentlessly entertaining. Chevette is badass and awesome and makes me want to be a bike messenger, Rydell is kind and a little stupid and an interesting main character because of it, and watching the two of them cause trouble together is a lot of fun.

The background characters really steal the story here. Sublett and his allergies are a funny diversion and the TV cult he escaped from makes me curious to know more about him. Skinner is noble and pathetic and raises a million questions that we don't get anywhere near enough answers to. JD Shapely is a mystery who we're only given enough information about to desperately want more.

San Francisco and LA are also characters, in their own odd way. The cities are smutty and dark and different from the cities as they currently are, but similar enough in enough ways that you can almost see the haze of smog and fog floating through the pages.

This is a great novel to dig in to, to bite down and expand your imagination. It's not as remote and foreign as the universe of Neuromancer, nor as familiar as the world of Pattern Recognition, so you can build up a base of familiar things (security companies, city layouts, bike couriers) combine them with bizarre ideas (nanotech buildings, an earthquake named Godzilla, the Golden Gate Bridge as a city unto itself) and write the concepts in between those two worlds for yourself, making the story richer than just the words on the page.

Gibson's stories demand participation. They ask effort from the reader to make the words resolve into something meaningful. Virtual Light is a great example of this concept, and a good place to start if you're not familiar with the rest of Gibson's works.

Gibson, William. Virtual Light. Bantam Books. New York: New York. 1993.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Circles through the net

The Sprawl Trilogy seems more circular than linear. This makes sense because so much of it takes place in a world that doesn't exist and is constantly rebirthing itself and the culture that surrounds it.

The push-and-pull of the real world and the net is probably a huge part of why Gibson is hailed as such a prescient author. He published The Sprawl Trilogy right as the real-world internet was starting to become something that people actually interacted with and he's one of the few writers who grasped that the larger society would subsume and then be consumed by online lives.

Mona Lisa Overdrive finishes what Neuromancer started - exploring the hair-fine line dividing the net from the real world and the ways to pass through and between the two. Like Dick, Gibson questions reality and its constraints and pushes the boundaries of what his characters (and readers) understand.

MLO brings together characters from both Neuromancer and Count Zero as well as introducing us to some new faces. There are, somewhat unfortunately, no physical visits to Straylight but there is a fascinating filling-in of the physical world - Cleveland and Florida and London appear on the pages as places that are new and bright and filthy and old and tired as our friends (and you do want to be friends with these characters) pass through them.

The geography of the novel is arresting. Neuromancer happens largely in a haze of drugs and jacking in and out of the net, Count Zero takes place in desolate deserts and the crowded Sprawl, but MLO is all over the place - hiding in constructs and bare wastes and the sprawl and old London townhouses. It fills itself with the world and colors the buildings it passes by.

There are huge parts of the story that I like, particularly the relationship between Kumiko and everyone's favorite razorgirl, but the book as a whole leaves me a little cold. I've already said that nothing is Neuromancer, but I can't help feeling that Mona Lisa Overdrive is just close enough to sting. I wish it was a little more than it is, but what it is just has to be enough.

     - Alli

Gibson, William. Mona Lisa Overdrive. Bantam Books. New York: New York. 1988.