Tag Archives: PKD winner

NOVA SWING – M. John Harrison (2006)

Nova Swing“For the detictive, he thought, nothing is ever only itself.”

There’s a provoking quote by Harrison floating around on the web, although the original post seems deleted:

“The writer – as opposed to the worldbuilder – must therefore rely on an audience which begins with the idea that reading is a game in itself. I don’t see this happening in worldbuilding fiction. When you read such obsessively-rationalised fiction you are not being invited to interpret, but to “see” and “share” a single world. As well as being based on a failure to understand the limitations of language as a communications tool (or indeed the limitations of a traditional idea of what communication can achieve), I think that kind of writing is patronising to the reader; and I’m surprised to find people talking about “actively reading” these texts when they seem to mean the very opposite of it. The issue is: do you receive – is it possible to receive – a fictional text as an operating manual? Or do you understand instead that your relationship with the very idea of text is already fraught with the most gameable difficulties & undependabilities? The latter seems to me to be the ludic point of reading: anything else rather resembles the – purely functional – act of following instructions on how to operate a vacuum cleaner.”

I guess it’s from the same post as this quote:

“Every moment of a science fiction story must represent the triumph of writing over worldbuilding. Worldbuilding is dull. Worldbuilding literalises the urge to invent. Worldbuilding gives an unneccessary permission for acts of writing (indeed, for acts of reading). Worldbuilding numbs the reader’s ability to fulfill their part of the bargain, because it believes that it has to do everything around here if anything is going to get done. Above all, worldbuilding is not technically necessary. It is the great clomping foot of nerdism. It is the attempt to exhaustively survey a place that isn’t there. A good writer would never try to do that, even with a place that is there. It isn’t possible, & if it was the results wouldn’t be readable: they would constitute not a book but the biggest library ever built, a hallowed place of dedication & lifelong study.”

Obviously this is all taste, and not law. It’s also no clear cut dichotomy, as there’s some worldbuilding in Nova Swing too, like in all other Harrison books I’ve read and will read. But as a piece of polemic poetics, Harrison succeeds to point sharply at one end of a spectrum.

It also says something about the difficulties I encountered while reading Nova Swing – a book that taxes the reader in an above average way. I had to pay attention, and while things got easier throughout to a certain extent, the first part of the finale was dense again, filled with sentences and scenes to reread and ponder. Not surprising, as it is set in “a stretch of bad physics, a mean glowing strip of strange”, a part of the so-called Kefahuchi Tract that fell to the surface of the planet Saudade in 2444AD – an age in which humans have spread out in the galaxy using FTL technology. Continue reading

ALTERED CARBON – Richard K. Morgan (2002)

Altered CarbonIt’s hardly surprising Netflix has announced a 10-episode series based on this book. If done right, this “pure high-octane science fiction” mixed “with the classic noir private-eye tale” will lend itself pretty well to the 21st century TV audience.

Altered Carbon is Richard K. Morgan’s debut, and instantly got acclaim. It won the 2003 PKD award, and comparisons to Blade Runner and Neuromancer are found in reviews all over the net. More on that later.


It’s an entertaining read, and fairly easy at that. Don’t believe reviewers who speak of a complex plot: one has to pay attention, yes, but the story simply goes from point A to B: easily recognizable events take the protagonist by the hand throughout a murky world to the inevitable conclusion, and new clues pop up at regular intervals. Events as: being ambushed, being shoved into a limousine to see some mighty powerbroker, being confronted by a female cop followed by kissing, being tailed, being seduced by the wife of your client, being put into a fighting pit (bare knuckles to the death!), going to an arms dealer to get new toys, etc., etc. All in all, pretty pulpy stuff.

That’s not to say the novel doesn’t have merit:

Continue reading

NEUROMANCER – William Gibson (1984)

NeuromancerThis book was hard work. I’m not sure if that hard work really paid off. I liked some parts, and there were some amazing sentences here and there, but overall this was too much stream of consciousness writing, and I didn’t really connect with Gibson’s consciousness. It doesn’t have the density of a book like Gravity’s Rainbow, but still, Neuromancer is a very dense book by any other standard, and it left me tired. It does get a bit easier, with a lot more exposition, towards the final 3rd of the book.

Density and unclear writing aren’t marks of valor per se. It might seem highbrow or sophisticated to read a dense book, and that’s undoubtedly part of the novel’s appeal – it adds to the reader’s own sense of prestige – , but one could easily argue that because of the style the characters are not clearly drawn and lifeless. The writing adds to the sense of chaos, but at the same time hides possible plot holes and almost violently forces the reader to suspend disbelief. I wonder whether the story itself would suffice to create the same effect.

So, one could debate Gibson being either a sloppy writer or otherwise a mad genius that only the willing and able can truly appreciate. The more I think about, the more I realize that I should maybe reread Neuromancer, with different expectations and a different mindset, and a more persistent effort to try to understand more of it. As it is, after my first reading, I didn’t feel that there was enough there content wise to justify Gibson’s formal approach. At times, I just wanted to quit, and I read on mainly because it has such a legacy.

As for the cyberpunk part of Neuromancer‘s influence, I really liked Stephenson’s take on the matter in Snow Crash a lot better. It had the same vibe, but because of clearer writing, the outrageousness of the world it painted impacted a lot more. Snow Crash read like a much more exciting book, with a more exciting story about more exciting characters in a more exciting world.

Some reviewers pointed out that Neuromancer may have well been written under the influence of drugs. Yes, it’s outlandish and otherworldly, but it felt disjointed and random too. While I can imagine other readers to enjoy it, and understand its historical relevance, for now I don’t feel it lives up to the hype. A blurry, messy book.

originally written on the 25th of February, 2015