Saturday, November 28, 2009

Memory, a blog of past and future

A legend of Past and future. By Mike Resnick
My wife picked this up at a book sale, and introduced me to a great new author.

Mike Resnick really has a talent for storytelling. This one is told in 12 parts, each taking place in a different time or place in the past and future. Each section starts with a monologue from the mind of a Kilimanjaro elephant, the largest land mammal. It follows his journey at the end of his life to Mount Kilimanjaro, the African mountain of god, to his death. Each segment of the book shares the elephant as its common theme, and more importantly for the title, the Ivory Tusks of this, the greatest of elephants.

The elephant is called by many names throughout the book, Malimba Temboz, (the mountain that walks), Tembo Laibon, (King of the Elephants) Mrefu Kulika Twiga (Taller than Giraffes) Bwana Mutaro (Master Furrow). The tusks of the Kilimanjaro Elephant, which are currently in the Museum of Natural History, locked in a vault in London, are lost to the ages by 6303 AD but the last member of the Maasai tribe commissions a search for them. Without ruining the story, the search takes Duncan Rojas, the senior researcher of “Braxton’s Records of Big Game” through the history of the Ivory all the way back to the death of the elephant and the reason why the last of a forgotten race is spending millions just to find this elephant’s tusks.
The depth of the detail of the African veldt seamlessly blends with the fantastic starscapes of the future. Each character is painted with depth and richness that refreshing to see.

I feel more in touch with Africa after reading this novel. My parents were missionaries to South Africa from 1986-1990. I turned 6 immediately after we arrived back in the states. I was very young, but my impressionable young mind has vivid memories of the complex blends of culture, animism, and connection to the land that the people have. I found myself reliving my past, remembering things and places that I had not thought of for a long time.

This story has a profound power to draw in the reader, each segment of the story pulling toward the end, the solution to the mystery, the culmination of the story.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

This is the opening line of Neuromancer, By William Gibson.

This book has been called the bible of cyberpunk, a fascinating blend of high technology and low life crime and culture.

Whatever it has been called, I call it intense, penetrating, thought provoking, disturbing, enticing, and depressing.

for a brief overview, Case, I forget his first name, because he's not called by it after the first chapter, is a down on his luck cyber cowboy. that is potentially the greatest understatement ever.... What actually is his predicament is this: Super talented hacker, manipulator of cyberspace, computers, and code. Steals from his employers, who then give him a mycotoxin, basically an organic compound that fries his brain just enough to prevent him from ever jacking into cyperspace again. So, basically, take the one thing you're good at, and sizzle it away.

the start of the book finds Case in a bar, high on whatever he can find, paranoid about his dealings with the scum of this seamy underworld in a city called Chiba in Japan. From technical wonderboy to petty low level hustler, Case is basically treading the edge, hoping that this life will kill him, even as he strives to continue to make a buck, score his next hit, and not piss off the wrong people.

Enter Armitage, who (spoiler alert) is not who he seems to be, and is being heavily influenced by a character introduced later. Armitage offers Case a job, and has some black market doctors perform a procedure that reverses the nerve damage in Case's brain. Oh and he also tells Case after he wakes up that he also had them put tiny sacs of the toxin in his blood that will break down in a few weeks, so he better stay in line...

Well maybe I won't spoil the ending. Read the book, it's worth it.

now for the response: Reading this book 26 years after it is written, I'm floored by the accuracy of detail that Gibson used so long ago to describe the realm of cyberspace, this "collective, voluntary hallucination". And even if we all don't run around in cyberspace in a 3D virtual reality, how much of our world is digital, and full of hackers, cyber cowboys, and hustlers? How long will it be before we create an A.I. capable of transcending the boundary of sentience? Maybe never, and maybe soon. 26 years ago, William Gibson compared the use of cyberspace to a drug. now we have facebook. Science fiction: crazy imagination, or predictive prehistory?