Review – Neuromancer by William Gibson

You may have noticed that I missed a week – ooops! This time it wasn’t because I was at Download. I don’t really have an excuse other than that I was in Weymouth at my parents house and after a ridiculously long, and delayed, journey on Sunday I was pretty tired. So, I forgot!

I’ve been meaning to do a number of reviews for a while, as it’s something that should help me with my PhD and give me some publications to my name. I thought I would start with a small one, as I’d forgotten last week’s post. In future I will try to do these reviews in a more academic style, but it has been a while since I read Neuromancer (I finished it on the 15 May) so I thought it would be best to give you a general overview of the novel, and to get in the habit of doing this.

Some would be surprised that it took me until 2017 to read Neuromancer – my mum actually read it before me, and she doesn’t read sci fi -, as it’s on top of a lot of Science Fiction reader’s recommended list, but as you know I read a lot and I didn’t get round to it until last year’s reissue showed up. I then read it in only 13 days. Although being a short novel, that’s slightly longer than average for me.

It was first published in 1984, and I would imagine that it was a fair bit more interesting then that it is now, some 33 years later. People say that it gave us the terms cyberspace and the matrix (although I suspect these ideas were well known to computer scientists at the time at least), but these terms are much more part of the common lexicon these days. I think this means that it is a lot less dramatic and alien than it might have felt at the time. It also gave us, or pioneered, the genre cyberpunk, and this is where it really comes into its own.

The story is loosely about a hacker, that down on his luck, having lost the ability to hack, is hired by an unknown business enterprise to do some hacking.

That’s probably the simplest and easiest to understand way to describe this novel, because there’s a lot here that doesn’t make sense. Or rather, what I should say is that Gibson knew exactly what he was writing, but there are a lot of terms that are difficult to understand and follow, especially given that this is a science fiction world in the future. (A future Earth, but still different enough to require a learning curve).

There’s a lot of talk about this online, some people saying it’s just difficult to read. I believe as some others do, that this was on purpose. I think Gibson even went as far as to suggest this himself. The main character is taken along for the ride, and as he is constantly in and out of cyberspace he only understand a little of what is going on. Gibson wanted the reader to be confused by this so that they appreciated the danger the character was in.

Regardless of what you think on the issue, the prose is good. There are some really lovely descriptive passages which put you right in this world and make you want to keep reading. Even if some sections are a little confusing – although I must say that I never felt that I needed to go back and reread pages, it was just a world I wasn’t part of – it is still well worth reading if you’re a fan of Science Fiction, and even if you’re not.

 

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How to Write When You’re Not Writing

Okay, so today’s post is a day late. No, it’s not because I spent ages trying to think of a pun for the title. As you can see I failed in that anyway. No, it was was to do with the fact that I was away at Download Festival in Donington Park all weekend. I fully intended to write a post when I got home yesterday, but energy and time escaped me. So, you can have it today instead. Aren’t I kind to you?

Today’s blog is in a way about Download Festival. Not directly as such, but more what happens when things like festivals, conventions, and other events get in the way of your writing. If you’re an aspiring writer then you probably will be, and should be, attending all sorts of conventions and events to meet fellow writers, agents, and publishers. Things like writing retreats are great to get away and put pen to paper. But what if the event you’re attending isn’t conducive to writing? What if it’s something like a festival where you are stuck in a field for days, cut off from the internet, and horror of horrors, having fun? *gasp*

Well, I would say that this is where ‘thinking’ comes in. Yes, it sounds silly, but it’s something I’ve talked about before. There is a lot more to writing than just typing words on a page. There’s research, planning, and plotting. All of which I’ve covered in previous blogs.

When I’m not by the computer, and even when I’m not carrying a notepad (this isn’t very often, but sometimes I forget it), I spend a lot of time thinking about my story. This can be absolutely anything to do with your story, but it’s a good idea to sometimes take some distance from the page and to just think about it. As I’ve said before before you start writing you need to know certain things about your story and characters.

A writer is always writing.

Right now, as I type this, I’m thinking about a few plot points of the novel I’m currently working on. Because to be fully immersed in it, to be able to write it well, it can never leave you.

I find it useful at the very least to run through dialogue. This can often be tricky to write, and young/inexperience writers often try and cram too much information into dialogue. It needs to be natural. Just sit somewhere and listen to how people talk. Most of what they’re saying is in what they’re not saying.

So, what I’ll do is run through the dialogue in my head, before I’ve even written it. What would that character say in that situation. No that doesn’t sound right, try again. Yes, that’s what they’re trying to say, but this is what they’re actually saying. By the time it gets to the page it’ll feel more ‘real’. As far as you’re concerned those characters have already had that conversation, you’re not making it up on the spot any more.

Dialogue isn’t the only think that you can think through. This weekend, I spent a bit of time, on the bus between Nottingham and Donington Park, thinking about the hierarchies in my novel. Who represents the main organisation, and what are their job roles? This all works towards having a workable, relatable world, even if it is science fiction. By thinking through this, it also brought up relationships between characters: if that was so and so’s job role, then actually they would treat so and so like this…

In short, there is so much that you can be doing, when you don’t have a chance to actually write prose, that will benefit your story. Try not to beat yourself up about not ‘writing’ and realise that actually what you are doing is ‘writing’, just not the physical side of it. I’m not saying drift off and waste time daydreaming and never get you’re writing down. But if you can’t write, then thinking through dialogue, characters, setting, or scenes can help you when you come back to the computer and that blank page that you left behind.

Thanks for reading, and if you liked what I have to say, or even disagree with it please comment below.

Science Fact-ion

“It’s Science Fiction, you can just make it up!”

One of the biggest assumptions and mistakes I have made is that writing Science Fiction is easier because, well, it takes place in a made up world. That means I’ve got my own sandbox to play in; I can do what I want.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy – writing, in general, never is.

The first full length novel I wrote was a Historical Fiction novel. It took hours and hours (and hours!) of research to just be able to start it. I wrote one chapter at the very beginning, and it just felt wrong. I didn’t want to approach the subject matter until I had got it right, and I felt like I already had a pretty good handle on the World Wars. Even now, after reading piles of books, there is still more that I could learn about these particular settings. As it was a World War One novel, about the trenches and conscientious objectors, I felt that it was too sensitive a subject to get any detail wrong. Sure, there’s room for artistic license. The characters I created didn’t actually exist, despite getting family names from censuses at the time, but everything else had to be right. The Liverpool Rifles couldn’t suddenly turn up at Gallipoli, because they weren’t there!

So, turn to Science Fiction and these sorts of things should be easier, right? My characters can go where-ever, and do whatever they want? Again, it’s not that easy.

Science Fiction readers are particularly attentive to detail. It’s an important part of the genre. After all, you can’t have Science Fiction without Science. If a ship goes between two planets in a matter of hours you’d better make sure you know how. I guarantee you someone will ask. Or worse, it will take someone out of the story and they’ll put your book down. As a writer, that’s the last thing you want.

I started planning my current novel thinking, ‘ack, I can sort that as I go along.’ However, the more I tried to plan and work out what was happening to the characters the more something didn’t feel right. What they were doing and how they were reacting didn’t make sense, because I didn’t yet have a sense of their world. This is a little easier in short stories, as the story world itself is usually smaller.

There are a few planets and cultures, with different factions, involved in the story and I first needed to work out how these worked. What made the humans tick? What were the aliens’ motives? If both cultures were on this planet, why? What did they eat, drink? How did their economy work.

Some of this may seem a little indulgent, but unless these places and cultures are real living, breathing things, at least in my head, then the readers won’t believe in them either. I ended up reading books about quantum physics and various other things. At least I find that stuff interesting. Writing, for me, is another way of learning, of absorbing information.

I still don’t think I’ve got everything right, and sure more will come out as I tell the story, but the chapters I’ve written are starting to feel more right, more real, as I go along.

Maybe someday you’ll be able to read it and see what I mean?