Neuromancer - William Gibson (Review)

Amazon Summary: The Matrix is a world within the world, a global consensus- hallucination, the representation of every byte of data in cyberspace.

Case had been the sharpest data-thief in the business, until vengeful former employees crippled his nervous system. But now a new and very mysterious employer recruits him for a last-chance run. The target: an unthinkably powerful artificial intelligence orbiting Earth in service of the sinister Tessier-Ashpool business clan. With a dead man riding shotgun and Molly, mirror-eyed street-samurai, to watch his back, Case embarks on an adventure that ups the ante on an entire genre of fiction.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Review: Never in my life have I been this simultaneously impressed AND bored while reading a book! I had a lot of mixed feelings about Neuromancer which leveled me out at about a 3.5; because of the sheer immensity behind the concept, and no sexism to boot, I'm letting it fall just a bit over the halfway mark into the positive. This book is most well-known for its very in-depth, visual descriptions of a "cyberspace" that was conceived before the internet. Some even go so far as suggesting that this book potentially put the "concept" of the internet into the public consciousness which eventually led to its creation. Just from reading it (and doing very little further research) I wouldn't go quite that far - but there is an obvious correlation. I will always have a very strong sense of identity wrapped up in the internet. As a 90's baby my childhood development occurred simultaneously with the growth of the internet. I've spent a lot of time wondering how it must have felt to grow up without an innate understanding of this huge shift in the way the world works which is what made Neuromancer sound so interesting to me.

When I say I was bored, that's not to say that the book did not deliver on the aforementioned subject. To the contrary - Gibson's bizarre descriptions of the physical cyberspace his characters inhabit were interesting, to say the least. Despite being written before our current conception of the internet - Gibson's universe seems to have made a logical jump in such a way that it still could be a variation on our own future. Everything made sense in a way that ties in very well with the current state of technology.

The story follows a "cyber cowboy", Henry Case, a hacker who was recently laid off and has damaged his central nervous system making it impossible for him to re-enter the "matrix". He is contacted by another company and offered the option to have this damage fixed and paid for given that he agrees to work with them on a project. Henry eagerly agrees, wanting nothing more than to return to his fast-paced lifestyle within cyberspace. The story continues to follow Case as he works with his mysterious benefactors, along with his partner Molly Millions. I was grateful to Gibson for allowing Molly to unapologetically take on the physical, "kick-ass" role while Henry primarily remained safe at his virtual station. Too many stories (lets even think modern day television: Arrow, The Flash) feature the amazing male hero out in the field and the nerdy, brilliant female counterpart relaying information from a desk. To see someone immediately flip that dynamic before it became such a cliché was a wholly pleasant experience. No complaints a la Stranger in a Strange Land - I realize one was written in the 60's and one in the 80's but there's a stark difference in it's treatment of women only 20 years later.

Despite these many positives, I'd be lying if I said this wasn't a difficult one for me to dredge through. While I can admire much of what Gibson created, I found the story difficult to understand. In retrospect, I can follow the plot, but paragraph to paragraph I would get lost and have to re-read things before I could even figure out the location of a scene. Naturally the metaphysical aspect of the story doesn't make this any easier, but I think I've read enough sci-fi and magic realism to say that I'm pretty good at following that sort of thing. The characters personalities themselves were non-existent which was the stories biggest downfall for me. If you asked me what the defining aspects of Henry, Molly or any of the other characters were I wouldn't be able to give you any. The personalities held no distinction and I felt no emotion towards them. Nothing really stuck out at me as far as "the human experience" is concerned, and the more impressive technical aspects of the story were too complicated to really have fun with. Was there a moral? I'm not sure, but if there was I certainly didn't leave understanding it.

Final Thoughts: I probably wouldn't recommend this to most readers. If you love science fiction and cyber-punk is something you're into, it's worth a go. I know that's not the case for the average person, and while I stand by my 3.5 for what it did bring me, I would imagine a lot of people getting just as bored as I was.

I know this is a favorite for some people so I'd love to hear what you took from it in the comments!

The Wicked + The Divine - Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson (Review)

Amazon Summary: Every ninety years, twelve gods incarnate as humans. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are dead. The team behind critically thermonuclear floor-fillers Young Avengers and Phonogram reunite to start a new, ongoing, superhero fantasy with a beautiful, oversized issue. Welcome to The Wicked + The Divine, where gods are the ultimate pop stars and pop stars are the ultimate gods. But remember: just because you're immortal, doesn't mean you're going to live forever.

Rating: 4 / 5

Review: Welp, Image Comics has come through again and added a second MUST-READ series to my collection. I tore through the current issues this week and am now sulking while I wait for the next issue, along with Saga. I wasn't sure going in - the synopsis was so grandiose that it seemed like it might be easy to miss the mark. But Gillen and McKelvie manage to gracefully give the story a sense of playfulness despite the darker themes.

The idea of celebrity and the power that naturally comes from it is fascinating and well explored by making the Gods in this universe literal 'Pop Stars'. In this way they are able to receive the public adoration that seems to be one of their main driving forces. The idea of entertainment & the media being revered as a modern form of religion pops up a decent amount in contemporary fiction. It reminded me in a very indirect way of Neil Gaiman's book American Gods which personifies these forces. I know it's a popular book, but I wasn't a huge fan. I found TW+TD explored these themes in a manner that was more engaging and not nearly as heavy handed.

There are a decent amount of PoC in the cast (including our lead!) as well as a trans character which was really exciting. The story itself isn't as tight as Saga (sorry, it's just my benchmark for A++ quality right now) and the world-building isn't as immersive but it's plenty interesting. To be fair - there's a LOT less material out right now (only 5 issues) and it has a great foundation to build the story off of. Occasionally the characterization was a little flat - I did like Lucifer but some of her dialogue was a little cliché. I enjoyed the book so much I almost feel guilty writing that, but it definitely crossed my mind a few times haha. And there was one scene in particular at the Morrigan's show in the subway that went on for a few pages and I had no idea what was going on. Maybe it was just me, but something about the panels/dialogue confused the heck out of me. Art is a bit more of the same - it doesn't touch Fiona Staples (I don't think anyone does??) but I thought it was clean and engaging once I started getting into the story.

Final Thoughts: Hiiighly recommend! If you see this, pick it up and give it a try - it's universally likable. I would suggest reading at least the first 3 issues before making a judgment on it. I will be happily continuing on with this series!

Pumpkin Picking 2014!


Yesterday my boyfriend, Frank and I decided to take a drive to some farms to get pumpkins and other fun fall goodies. The day was a little chilly - and the sky was gray and overcast but we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I have a tradition of finding the most misshapen pumpkin in the field to bring home because it's unlikely anyone else would have picked it. It's kinda dumb, but I always love my ugly lumpy pumpkins!

Untitled Untitled Untitled Untitled Untitled Untitled Untitled Untitled Untitled Untitled Untitled Untitled

Escape From Camp 14 - Blaine Harden

Amazon Summary: North Korea’s political prison camps have existed twice as long as Stalin’s Soviet gulags and twelve times as long as the Nazi concentration camps. No one born and raised in these camps is known to have escaped. No one, that is, except Shin Dong-hyuk.

In Escape From Camp 14, Blaine Harden unlocks the secrets of the world’s most repressive totalitarian state through the story of Shin’s shocking imprisonment and his astounding getaway. Shin knew nothing of civilized existence—he saw his mother as a competitor for food, guards raised him to be a snitch, and he witnessed the execution of his mother and brother.

Escape from Camp 14 offers an unequalled inside account of one of the world’s darkest nations. It is a tale of endurance and courage, survival and hope.

Rating:4 / 5

Review:This will probably be a relatively short review considering the nature of this book. There isn't exactly much to "review" or critique here - Escape From Camp 14 is a factual journalistic account of Shin Dong-hyuk's life and escape from a North Korean labor camp. There are no frills added by author, Blaine Harden which is fitting given the solemn tone of the story. Given how rare a personal story like this is coming from behind the nation's walls of secrecy, it seems imperative to read if you have any interest whatsoever in global affairs. I was astounded by not only Shin's bravery throughout his story, but by his willingness to come forward and share such intimate details of his life with the public. He's truly remarkable and my heart goes out to him and any others facing these nightmares each day.

All I can really say is - this book is going to stick with you.

Recent News:
-North Korea Ready to Start Nuclear Talks
-Did North Korea really admit to its horrific forced labor camps? Not exactly.
-In Kim Jong-un’s Absence, Rumors About Him Swirl in North Korea
-Japanese women who have escaped from North Korea find little sympathy at home

Final Thoughts: Read this. Learn. Understand.

Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy (Review)

Amazon Summary: Described by William Faulkner as the best novel ever written and by Fyodor Dostoevsky as “flawless,” Anna Karenina tells of the doomed love affair between the sensuous and rebellious Anna and the dashing officer, Count Vronsky. Tragedy unfolds as Anna rejects her passionless marriage and thereby exposes herself to the hypocrisies of society. Set against a vast and richly textured canvas of nineteenth-century Russia, the novel's seven major characters create a dynamic imbalance, playing out the contrasts of city and country life and all the variations on love and family happiness.

Rating: 3.5 - 4 / 5

Review: Coming in at a little over 700 pages, Anna Karenina felt like quite a journey by the ending. It took me a little over a month (while reading comics in between) to get through this one and I'm definitely feeling the sadness of being separated from the characters after so long. I've been writing up this review on and off all day because I'm not sure how to summarize a piece as large as this. The two elements that stuck out to me the most were the larger thematic topics the book broached (relationships, gender, family, class issues etc.) and the political commentary of the time/location. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that a good portion of the political discussion went right over my head. Don't get me wrong - there are parts that are easy to follow despite having no background information - but there were large paragraphs where I had to concede my lack of understanding. Despite this, I was very drawn in throughout the majority of the book. The books sections take on a third-person perspective from each character's point of view which shifts the narration tone a bit with each voice. As might be assumed, the pieces from the titular character were the most interesting for me.

The book felt split primarily between the lives of Anna and her lover, Vronsky, and their distantly related acquaintances Levin and Kitty. Anna lives a much more liberal and upper-class lifestyle (due to her decision to leave her husband and child for Vronsky) while Levin and Kitty have a slow-paced, more traditional marriage running the family farm. I especially enjoyed scenes in which the women's lives were juxtaposed amongst one another - particularly because their interactions (the 'whore' vs the 'madonna') still somehow felt deeply relevant to our current society. I'm still amazed at how little our interactions and roles have changed despite how far off these characters seem from my own life. Levin, who is an obvious stand-in for Tolstoy, while not awful is a bit on the dull side and has some very long-winded passages.

If you consider yourself a writer or an avid reader, this book is worth your time if only to study Tolstoy's mastery of language. And I'm sure I was still missing some of the depth due to subtleties being lost in the translation. Each scene, no matter how simple and mundane was lovely to read and incredibly easy to get lost in. I was surprised to find the depth and humanity that Tolstoy gave to his female characters. I felt they were represented sympathetically and fairly the majority of the time - although I thought the ending was extremely rushed and did not give Anna (or any of the other ladies, to be fair) her due. I was really loving the book the majority of the way through, and it would have earned a solid 4 from me had it not ended as unresolved as it did. The amount of time given to Levin at the end vs. Anna and her family seemed self-indulgent and not as carefully planned as the rest of the book. Perhaps it was done for a reason that I'm not understanding, but I wanted more of a resolution after dedicating so much time to the story.

Final Thoughts: I have a feeling the average reader will find this a struggle to get through - but it's written beautifully and is overall well done. For readers and writers it's a must - for everyone else it really depends on your level of interest when it comes to realistic fiction and how much time you're willing to spend on one book.