Final Staff

Editor-in-Chief:
Stacey Janssen

Managing Editor:
Dave Noonan

Editors

  • Mishell Baker
  • Bluejack
  • Amy Goldschlager
  • Emily Lupton
  • R. K. MacPherson
  • Scott James Magner
  • Robin Shantz

Copy Editors

  • Sarah L. Edwards
  • Yoon Ha Lee
  • Sherry D. Ramsey
  • Rena Saimoto
  • Paula Stiles

Editors-at-Large

  • Marti McKenna
  • Bridget McKenna

Publicity

  • Geb Brown

Publisher: Bluejack

February, 2008 : Feature:

Cyborgs Then and Now

Among the common tropes of science fiction, cyborgs have long been recognized as possessing unique potential as a metaphor for transitional identity, for the spaces between natural and constructed, human and machine. In a famous essay from 1985, A Manifesto for Cyborgs, Donna Haraway promoted the cyborg to a symbol of liberation from received ideas of identity as tied to biology. The so-called "cyberfeminism" that arose in the wake of Haraway's influential article sees the cyborg as a challenge to old dualisms:

...my cyborg myth is about transgressed boundaries, potent fusions, and dangerous possibilities which progressive people might explore as one part of needed political work. One of my premises is that most American socialists and feminists see deepened dualisms of mind and body, animal and machine, idealism and materialism in the social practices, symbolic formulations, and physical artifacts associated with 'high technology' and scientific culture. (Haraway 1991, 154)

She goes on to claim that, "Cyborg imagery can suggest a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves" (Haraway 1991, 181).

What has become of this politicized science-fictional trope over twenty years after Haraway's manifesto? Does it still hold any radical potential for redefinition of identity, feminist or not? How do cyborgs now compare to cyborgs as they were first envisioned? In order to examine these questions, we will first take a look at the origin of the cyborg in science fiction.

A Brief History of Cyborgs

Before cyborgs became a symbol for embracing radical uncertainty, they were a theoretical solution for solving some of the problems posed by travel in outer space. Manfred E. Clynes and Nathan S. Kline published a paper in 1960 in which they propose the term "cyborg" for humans augmented to make them more suited to space flight (available online.) As Ashley Dunn points out, "Ever since the publication of 'Cyborgs and Space' in 1960, the concept of the human-machine being has entranced scientists and laymen alike" (n.p.).

But the idea of the cyborg has been around for much longer than the name. According to The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, the first major cyborg novel was The Clockwork Man by E.V. Odle, which appeared in 1923 (Clute and Nicholls, 290). From this clockwork mechanism in the brain of a man; to the cyborg spaceship of Anne McCaffrey's The Ship Who Sang; to the pilot with the mechanical heart of Vonda McIntyre's Superluminal; to the cyborg time travelers of Kage Baker's Company stories, human/machine interfaces have been with us in science fiction for over eighty years now.

The extent to which a human protagonist has been augmented to make him or her a "cyborg" varies widely. On one end of the spectrum there are such figures as the superman/bionic man of the TV series Six Million Dollar Man; on the other end, humans modified minimally for a specific job or environment, such as the neural implants of the Netwalkers in Melissa Scott's novel, Trouble and her Friends, and similar bio-mechanical enhancement in other works generally lumped together as cyberpunk.

The cyborg sometimes gets confused with androids, which are humanoid machines rather than mechanized humans. The confusion is understandable, being largely a matter of the direction from which the concept of the man-machine hybrid is approached. Among the stranger variants of this kind of machine/human interface is the example of Jonas in Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun cycle, who began his existence as a mechanical man, and becomes human through replacement of his worn parts with biological limbs and organs. A reverse cyborg, in effect, machine becoming man.

Cyborgs and Cyberpunk

The extent to which the human-machine interface is thematized in science fiction varies widely as well. In fact, the whole identity/body issue comes up in fiction much less often than all the theoretical excitement surrounding the topic would seem to imply. Where it seems to be addressed most often, however, is in the genre of cyberpunk.

Cyborgs and cyberpunk have often been conflated, with a certain amount of justification. Many of the protagonists of cyberpunk are augmented, a synthesis of human and machine, most frequently to enable them to upload their minds to the individual author's version of cyberspace. While the extent of mechanical manipulation of the physical body here is less than in many works containing cyborgs, given the fact that manipulation often has to do with the mind, it is perhaps not surprising that theoretical and/or philosophical implications of the cyborg come up more often in these works. Where does identity begin and end when Case's augmentation allows him to jack into Molly's mind in William Gibson's Neuromancer? He is still Case, but his feelings and sensations are Molly's:

The abrupt jolt into other flesh. Matrix gone, a wave of sound and color....
"How you doing, Case?" He heard the words and felt her form them. She slid a hand into her jacket, a fingertip circling a nipple under warm silk. The sensation made him catch his breath. She laughed. But the link was one-way. He had no way to reply. (56)

In Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, the Metaverse messes up reality and identity in similar ways, but this cyberpunk novel also has non-human cyborgs, the rat things: former dogs programmed as security devices to protect territory. Quite the opposite of Haraway's liberating Cyborg Manifesto, rat things are slaves to their machine selves. On the other hand, they retain strong memories of being real dogs, which allows them to develop the kind of protective attachment that Fido has for Y.T.

The theme of identity and humanity in cyberpunk is more famously explored using the trope of androids rather than cyborg. The Nexus 6 replicants in the film Blade Runner (1982) are perhaps the most iconic human hybrids in the minds of millions of film viewers, who also see that movie as the defining aesthetic of cyberpunk. The replicants, however, are androids, machines made in the human image, using human materials, rather than cyborgs. The theme explored in the case of androids tends to be to what extent a machine can develop individual indentity and humanity and is thus on a thematic level a very different animal than the human augemented in such a way to transcend physical limitations, despite the superficial similarities in the tropes.

Cyborgs Now

While cyborgs were fairly common in cyberpunk and before, their use appears to have let up a bit in more recent science fiction. Or has it? It could be argued that our idea of human has expanded to the extent that many of the highly augmented characters of only a few decades ago would be more likely now to be referred to as human than as cyborg. On the one hand, there are characters such as Catherine Asaro's bio-mechanically enhanced Sauscony Valdoria, an elite space fighter pilot approaching superwoman status. But even as modified as she is, this character is not ostensibly a cyborg—as she probably would have been if she had been written twenty years earlier.

Then there are the types of cyborgs to be found in contemporary science fiction—which ramp up the unusual aspect of the modification. In Kage Baker's Company stories, the effect of augmentation is nothing less than immortality. William Barton's Gods of a Lesser Creation takes a different tack on the unusual; here the semi-human cyborgs include animal characteristics—not only are they modified, they are human/machine/animal interfaces.

While Barton's story explores themes of humanity and identity and the complications of being an amalgam of flesh and metal, it is far-removed from Haraway's liberating cyborg myth—‌much like the "rat thing" cyborgs of Stephenson's Snow Crash. In Barton's tale, cyborgs, androids and gyndroids (being, after all, products) are slaves, property, rented out to high-paying customers for sex or companionship or whatever the case may be. The narrator, Lassie, is a cyborg consisting of human, machine, and dog. Nominally a female, s/he has male pheromones, and is "more meat than metal" (16). The story is about the friendship that develops between Lassie and "She," a gyndroid primarily used for sex, and their relationship with the family that rents them for a vacation. Lassie has no real memories of either human or dog life and envies the humans for possessing complete lives, but by the end of the story it is clear that there is very little reason to envy the humans. As She tells Lassie, "You know, of course you do, how much more of a man, how much more of a human being you are than they, poor old Lassie." (28) Thus the theme in this story is closer to the traditional android tale, the development of identity and humanity in a being that is essentially a product.

The Thing About Identity

The central question posed by the machine-human interface of the cyborg can be asked in two different ways:

  1. How much does changing the physical body change identity?
  2. To what extent is the mind independent of the body?

Alison Muri for one believes that this leads to a basic contradiction in cyborg theory:

A central paradox in cyborg theory is that consciousness or soul is understood to be indelibly altered by technological changes to the body but is also contradictorily seen as distinct—even detachable—from the body. (80)

We do not think, however, that this is necessarily a contradiction. Instead, it can be seen as two sides of the same coin, two different ways of examining the same topic. Even though Lassie is a "dog" whose memories are erased with each new client, s/he retains something of personality and humanity. At the same time, Lassie's identity is circumscribed by the physical/machine body s/he inhabits. And while Case remains Case even when he uploads his mind into the matrix and from there into Molly's mind (and body and sensations), these scenes nonetheless contain an element of basic identity insecurity.

The very act of involvement in a story, of associating one's self with the other of the narrator or protagonist, is a kind of poor man's consciousness transfer. From our very roots in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, we as a field have been focused on the idea of creating new and better men—every fan is a modern Prometheus. Is it any wonder that the concept of cyborgs holds such fascination for readers of our genre?

Works Referenced

Baker, Kage. The Young Master. Asimov's, July 2000: 32-49.

Barton, William. Gods of a Lesser Creation. Asimov's, August 2004: 12-28.

Clute, John and Peter Nichols, eds. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1995.

Clynes, Manfred E., and Nathan S. Kline. Cyborgs and Space. Astronautics, September 1960. (Reprinted online.)

Dunn, Ashley. The Cyborg as Warp-Speed Evolution. New York Times (online edition), February 26, 1997. (Available online.)

Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York, NY: Ace, 1984.

Haraway, Donna. A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s. Socialist Review 15 (1985): 65-107.

———. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. London: Routledge, 1991. Chapter 8, A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century." (Available online.)

Irving, Richard. The Six Million Dollar Man. Universal Television, 1973. (IMDB)

McCaffrey, Anne. The Ship Who Sang. (1969) New York, NY: Ballatine Books, 1970.

McIntyre, Vonda. Superluminal. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1983.

Muri, Allison. Of Shit and the Soul: Tropes of Cybernetic Disembodiment in Contemporary Culture. Body & Society 9.3 (2003): 73–92. (Available online.)

Scott, Melissa. Trouble and her Friends. New York, NY: Tor Books, 1994.

Scott, Ridley, Dir. Blade Runner. Warner Brothers, 1982.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. London, England: Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, & Jones, 1818.

Stephenson, Neal. Snow Crash. New York, NY: Bantam, 1992.

Wolfe, Gene. Shadow of the Torturer. New York, NY: Tor, 1980.


Copyright © 2008, Ruth Nestvold and Joseph E. Lake, Jr.. All Rights Reserved.

About Ruth Nestvold

Ruth Nestvold has published in Asimov's and Realms of Fantasy, and was a recent finalist for both the Tiptree and Sturgeon awards. She holds a PhD in literature with specializations in genre issues, gender issues and hyperfiction. After getting out of academia, she switched to translation and software localization to feed the writing bug. She maintains a web site at www.ruthnestvold.com.

About Jay Lake

Jay Lake lives in Portland, Oregon, where he works on numerous writing and editing projects. His 2008 novels are Escapement from Tor Books and Madness of Flowers from Night Shade Books, while his short fiction appears regularly in literary and genre markets worldwide. Jay is a winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and a multiple nominee for the Hugo and World Fantasy Awards. Jay can be reached through his blog at jaylake.livejournal.com or his Web site at www.jlake.com.

COMMENTS!

Feb 19, 03:58 by IROSF
Are you a cyborg or do you know one? Please post your feedback.

The article be found here.
Feb 26, 18:23 by D. Nicklin-Dunbar
Good overview of the motif of the cyborg. I was surprised that Masamune Shirow's The Ghost in the Shell did not make the article. The original manga, the films based on the manga and the two television series (GitS Stand Alone Complex and GitS Second Gig explore (among many other consequences of a high-tech society) the consequences of cyborg technology. It is, in my opinion, one of the best and realistic explorations of these issues in both personal life and society as a whole.

As an example, at one point in the first film the protagonist (cyborged human Motoko Kusanagi) asks a comrade "Have you ever seen your own brain?". This simple question raises a host of questions she must answer concerning her own identity. Is she really human, or is she only a machine running a simulation of a human? Can she rely on her memories as a way of proving her actual existence? Kusanagi's quandry raises these questions for us as well.

In the first of the television series, Kusanagi's watch becomes important as an anchor to a past she cannot entirely trust. The watch serves as a device to allow her to maintain her personality through her many body changes, a way of proving that she is the same person as before, a way of proving that she indeed has a past and is not simply a mechanical construct.

GitS also explores other consquences of a society where the body is transient. Everything from the military use of cyborg bodies and the new tactics that must be evolved on the battle field to the use of empty (soulless) mechanical bodies for sex is explored.

Anyone interested in cyborgs should track GitS down (easy enough to do now, and the english dub is superb, see link).

Damn fine science fiction all around, in fact. Highly recommended.

Also, while not dealing specifically with cyborgs, Richard Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs novels deal with several similar problems inherent in a society that can quickly and easily change bodies. Morgan is a rising star in science fiction and should be read.
Feb 28, 14:26 by Bluejack
I'm just reading some of Morgan's stuff now, and although I find the relentless focus on sex-n-violence to be somewhat cliche, I'm enjoying the byzantine plots and at least some of the characters.
Feb 28, 15:28 by D. Nicklin-Dunbar
The sex and violence is often one of the complaints that most critics have, and as much as I enjoy a bit o' the ol' ultraviolence, Morgan sometimes seems gratuitous in it. You are right about the byzantine plots though. I am always reminded of Chandler novels when I read Morgan (which, I think, is the effect he is aiming for).

His characters, in particular Kovacs and Chris Faulkner (from Market Forces are of course anti-heroes, but anti-heroes with a twist. They aren't anti-heroes you particularly root for. They are just less evil than the antagonists they combat. Western media has, unfortunately, 'wussified' the anti-hero motif over several decades (witness the Batman franchise). Morgan's fairly dispicable anti-heroes are refreshing. And he does violence right. It should be revulsive. It takes a lot to crack the indifference bred by scores of Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Van Damme movies, and Morgan can punch right through it.

Try Market Forces. Still somewhat violent, but not Takeshi Kovacs violent. Right now I am half way through Black Man, and it is very, very good. Probably his best so far.

Now that I am done schilling for him, I should really get back to work!
Mar 4, 02:29 by Bluejack
Just read Thirteen -- his latest I believe, and the violence was particularly gratuitous in this one. He also seems to be moving away from the science fictional and into a thriller-set-in-a-sci-fi world kind of novel.
Mar 4, 15:21 by D. Nicklin-Dunbar
Indeed, Thirteen (published everywhere else as Black Man) is Morgan's latest novel. I am surprised you found the violence particularly gratuitous in comparison to Woken Furies or Broken Angels. I won't argue that Morgan likes his violence, but I do find that his approach to it is fresher than most of the military science fiction published recently. That violence seems depersonalized, almost academic (witness Weber's Honor Harrington novels or Bujold's Vorkosigan series). Sure, people die in their novels, but never do those deaths have any real immediacy. Morgan is visceral.

While Black Man/Thirteen is violent, what really intregued me was the philosopical discussion Morgan presents us about the nature of mankind, our inheritance as descendants of nature red in tooth and claw, and the subjective fears we suffer from when faced with atavism. Morgan also discusses the meanings and consequences of genetic engineering, the advent of nano-construction, and interplanetary travel.

You are right, Morgan is sliding more towards a thriller in this novel. The Kovacs novels were more "hard science fiction" (whatever that means) and less thriller (although they are heavy on the hardboiled detective). The hard science is still there in Black Man/Thirteen but it has been moved from non-dialogue info-dump to, admittedly, vague discription and character discussion. In many ways, it serves the novel better.

It is probably my person preference, but I think that science fiction needs the kind of cross genre writing that we find in Black Man/Thirteen (I can only assume that the American publisher changed the title in fear of the political correctness police). I am grown tired of Weber's never ending 'starship captain against the marauding fleet' sagas and or the recasting of the Veit Nam war in space that has made John Ringo's name. I am not arguing that the writing or the stories aren't any good, they are, but the genre is stagnating if that's all there is to offer (and, as much as I hate to say it, it is, with notable exceptions of course).

The most innovative S/F is coming from people like Paolo Bacigalupi or Charles Stross and these stories are not particularly science fictional. Again, the science is there, but they are by no means Heinleinian (can we use Heinlein as an adjective?).

You'd think I was getting paid by Morgan by the way I push his books!

Great to have the site back, btw. Now I can rant about S/F to people who care!
Mar 5, 19:04 by Bluejack
Well, I haven't read Woken Furies yet and am just a third of the way into Broken Angels, so I can only imagine what I'm in for there. :)

In terms of sci-fi v. thriller, it seems like the science fiction in Thirteen was mostly setting; the story was about the characters. It would take almost no important plot point changes to have the whole story set in contemporary non-science-fictional setting. I don't mind that: I still enjoy the science fiction backdrop, but in the Kovacs novels I also enjoy the engagement with far-future speculative ideas.

Broken Angels, for example, has already started exploring ideas of alien-ness. Admittedly, well-trodden ground, but seemingly endlessly fascinating, and Morgan tackles it dead on. Gives it some new spin (so far). And the killing so far has been strictly military.


Mar 6, 18:11 by D. Nicklin-Dunbar
Broken Angels gets bloodier, but not quite as A Clockwork Orangey as Woken Furies.

I am not convinced that Thirteen's science fiction is only in the setting, and I do not agree that it would "would take almost no important plot point changes" to make it comteporary thriller a la J. D. Robb/Nora Roberts' "In Death" series. The crux of the novel, I feel, is the tension between the genetically created atavistic variant 13s and normal humans. Without that particular science fiction premise, the story would not hold together. I suppose that you could replace the variant 13s with vampires or werewolves easy enough, but there would be no philosophical argument if you simply made them mentally warped soldiers.

In fact, I would have to argue that the ultimate twist of the novel (WARNING: SPOILER AHEAD) where Okenbend tells Marisalis that it was the baseline humans who were the genetic mutants and the variant 13 physiology is the true form of humanity could not exist in any contemporary thriller without science fiction. Again you could substitue in a forgotten enclave of Cro-magnons or something, but even then you are relying on some sort of science fiction premise.

I won't argue that Thirteen (Black Man for everyone outside of the U.S.) isn't a thriller. It is. But there is more science fiction in it that the above mentioned J.D. Robb or other "science fiction" crossovers by writers outside our genre (or, strangely, things like Bear's Quantico). I guess I just found more science fiction in it than you did. That is what is great about S/F though; the ability to stimulate discussion and difference of opinion. (What difference of opinion could people have about Harlequin Romances, I ask you?)

You are right, however, that the Takeshi Kovacs novels are more in the line of 'hard science fiction" (although that term is problematic, see the editorial essay in The Hard S/F Renaissance). And at last the thread returns to its original purpose of cyborgs!

Morgan's world is full of all kinds of cool future tech (did you catch the reference to altered carbon in Thirteen? I think all his works are set in the same world). The DHF (downloaded human freight) is one of the fascinating ideas of modern science fiction. While S/F has long had the idea that man could 'download' his mind into the machine, robot body etc, Morgan carries the idea further by making it the basis of stellar travel (he does have lighthuggers but they take time, his DHF is almost instant). Personalities are then loaded into new bodies (sleeves) either synthetic or human.

Morgan takes a very close look at the manifold consequences of this technology (effective immortality for those who can afford it [the human back up tech is a citizen right but not resleeving], supersoldier bodies for combat [and the idea that militaries can use things like tac nukes since you can resleeve the soldier when the body dies] and the possibility that your consciouness could be infected by a computer virus, these are but a few). He also makes the consequences of this technology intregal to his plots. It is these sorts of questions he raises that makes the Kovacs books superb reading for anyone interested in the cyborg motif.

As Bluejack points out, Morgan's books are explicity violent and sexual, and so not for everyone, but Morgan also takes some well trodden ground and makes it new. I would expect to see film versions in the near future (Altered Carbon has hard boiled detectives and corrupt cops and big guns and kinky sex and slick tech and dispicable bad guys, what Hollywood producer could resist that combination? Not Joel Silver!).

Anyway, thanks for the discussion Bluejack! Oh and have you been reading other British S/F authors of the New New Wave (or whatever they are calling it)? Reynolds, MacLeod et al?
Mar 6, 18:17 by D. Nicklin-Dunbar
Wow, am I ever verbose. Sorry for taking up so much screen realestate with my rant/ramblings!
Mar 7, 05:03 by Bluejack
So, Morgan handles the jacked-testosterone of the Variant Thirteen in good science fictional tradition, and it does spur some philosophical discussions (nature v. nurture; essence of humanity; identity; masculinity), but even within the context of the stories themselves, the author seems to be falling out on the side of nurture over nature. You could have the same philosophical discussions in a contemporary thriller, and you could have the same plot points with any of the not-so-realistic Hollywood action-hero leads pulling their implausible survival stunts. Is Morgan's Variant Thirteen really any different than a Bruce Willis character? It may have better justification, but it's not really a different *story*.

And as for the hibernating humanoid -- I *really* don't see the point.

I've been contemplating the influence of video games on Morgan's plots: an indestructible hero who can respawn at will ripping up disposable non-character entities at will, collecting quest tokens in a labyrinth of events in which every detail *can* bear significance, and most come round, either in predictable ways (Norton's brother) or surprising ones (Ortiz).

Yeah, I've read Revelation Space by Reynolds (although it was a while ago and didn't make a huge impression on me), most of MacLeod (which has made an impression), most of Stross (if he counts), all of Mieville (is New Weird part of New New Wave?), lots of MacAuley.
Mar 7, 16:28 by D. Nicklin-Dunbar
I will concede the point that a Variant 13 is not much different than a Bruce Willis character with more justification for his abilities. It is, however, those justifications that are the science fiction in Thirteen. I will also admit that Thirteen may be Morgan's best written novel (in a literary, wordsmith sense) but not as science fictional as the Kovacs novels. Touché, sir.

You have to admit though, it was a pretty good thriller with some wonderful and scary ideas. I am still unconvinced that the philosphy could have been transplanted into a non-science fiction novel though. Some of the arguements (eg: nature vs. nuture) certainly, but the whole of it relies too much on the atavistic nature of the Variant 13s and is therefore speculative. I am reminded of the first run cyborgs in Kage Baker's "Company" novels and short stories; the ones that were created and used to wipe out "wild" humanity so that civilization could be developed. The descriptions Baker provides for the psychology and physiology of these early "warrior" cyborgs is markedly similair. I am not sure that Morgan could have made many of the arguments that he did without writing within science fiction.

His books do read like FPS video games don't they? Hmmm.... You know a Kovacs FPS/Puzzle game...

As for Reynolds, Revelation Space is in my opinion the weakest of his "Revelation Space" series (sounds strange doesn't it). Redemption Ark and its direct sequel Absolution Gap are better written and plotted. If you like the big concept, far future, neat-but-fictional-science, these two will not disappoint. Oh, and an alien that is alien. I get recollections of Lovecraft when I read Reynolds (not the supernatural, but the 'tiny island of ignorance admist the vast seas of infinity' and the utterly indifferent/specifically malicious nature of the universe).

Of note are also Reynolds' Pushing Ice (a stand alone novel not set in the 'Revelation Space' universe), that has some absolutely mindboggling huge things in it (which I can't describe without spoilers and really, the surprise of them is part of the awesomeness [and I mean that in the definitive sense] of them). The ending is a bit disappointing; I was left vaguely unsatisfied but I did go back and read it twice more just for fun.

And his latest The Prefect which is set in the 'Revolution Space' universe, but several centuries before Redemption Ark and Absolution Gap. This one is a straight up police investigation story, but I think you will find it more satifying a cross over than Thirteen was. Lots of tech, a plot that hinges on technology and another alien that is alien. If the rest of the 'Revelation Space' novels do make an impact, be sure to get Galactic North (you should get it anyway, some very, very fine short science fiction in it).

MacLeod is probably my newest favorite science fiction writer. I read The Stone Canal on a whim and it solidified lots of vague political ideas that had been floating in my head for years. I am not certain that I can put into words how large and important an impact that MacLeod's writing has made on me. I have since read, and reread and reread and reread, everything I can get my hands on by him. I would have to say, however, Learning The World was the least impressive (but still a great novel) and I was somewhat dismayed by the ending of The Execution Channel. It was so out of right field and unexpected (yet in all ways completely Ken MacLeod in its weirdness) that I am not sure it wasn't a cop out.

Mieville I haven't read much of, though he comes highly recommended by everyone in the field (and for my money, I would count the New Weird in with the New New Wave [I am not sure where I heard that term, but I think it fits as well as any]). Stross counts, and talk about high bitrate, big concept stuff! Uploaded sentient lobsters! Self evolving artificial cats! Transdimensional Nazis! Stross is a roller coaster. A roller coaster built out of a skyhook!

MacAuley leaves me kind of cold. Competantly written, some good ideas, but not really all that engaging. Perhaps you could suggest which novels I should read?

[/verbosity]
Mar 8, 21:22 by Bluejack
Re: Thirteen: absolutely no complaints about the book as something worth reading and fun to read.

Re: McAuley: The books I *enjoyed* most were the confluence books, but I have to say they're felt somewhat derivative -- they owed a lot to Gene Wolfe's _Book of the New Sun_ series. However, there are far worse works to imitate! I've also read some space-opera stuff by McAuley that I enjoyed at the time, but looking over his bibliography I find I can't pinpoint what it is I've read! It could have been short fiction. Not the strongest recommendation, I guess. (I'm travelling and away from my bookshelves. A handicap.)

Re: Mieville: Not something you want to go into with a lot of expectations. It gets way overhyped, and if you are looking for something revelatory and transformative -- well -- you'll probably be disappointed. But fun and some very vivid writing in places.

A couple more that probably fit into that family: Iain Banks and M. John Harrison.

I have been consistently disappointed with Harrison: his Viriconium books (another with lots of Gene Wolfe driving the inspiration) begin well but, to my taste, ramble off into a more theoretical/experimental realm that's less immediately enjoyable. I also read Light, which I found quite offputting for a variety of reasons, both narrative and thematic.

Banks is someone whom everyone I know raves to me about. However, every time I go to the bookstore I read the back covers and sort of twitch off to something else.
Mar 10, 14:49 by D. Nicklin-Dunbar
I did read McAuley's "Confluence" books and wasn't all that impressed. Great writing, certainly. McAuley does have a way with words, however, description at the detriment of plot has always annoyed me. That is one of the reasons most literary fiction never gets on my shelves: beautiful writing in service of itself. I too am reminded of Gene Wolfe's "New Sun" novels. I tried and tried and tried to read them and never got past about page 50. Reminded me of all those awful 18th and 19th Century novels I had to read as an undergrad(I will see you in hell Thackery!). It has been several years since I last tried McAuley and Wolfe, so maybe it is time for me to try them again.

I will definitely try some Miéville. He is one of those authors where I pick up the book in the store, but then see something by McDevitt or Reynolds and put him back down. There does seem to be a lot of hype. The editors at Locus are really pushing Un Lun Dun (they seem to be hyping a lot of YA in general lately). I am looking for some good Lovecraftian/Weird Fiction type stuff and Miéville might fit the bill.

I won't rave to you about Banks. I have enjoyed some of his "Culture" work that has made it into short fiction form, but his novels are off putting in some vague way. The Algebraist is on my to-read pile though. The plot seemed intriguing.

Thanks for the suggestions and info!

Want to Post? Evil spammers have forced us to require login:

Sign In

Email:

Password:

 

NOTE: IRoSF no longer requires a 'username' -- why try to remember anything other than your own email address?

Not a subscriber? Subscribe now!

Problems logging in? Try our Problem Solver