April 9, 2013

Zero History by William Gibson [review time]

If you thought he could write about the future, you should see him write about the present. William Gibson's 2011 novel, the third of an informal trilogy that includes Pattern Recognition (2005) and Spook Country (2007), is relentlessly contemporary and doesn't shy away from weaving Twitter and a much-loved MacBook Air into the story, a modern tale of love, marketing and stolen denim. Although fans have been critical of Gibson for expecting us to care about the mystery surrounding the identity of a blue jeans designer, the book does have something. The words breathe some amount of mysticism into the real world of digital systems and networks, and the characters are worth caring about, even if you don't share their obsession with the maker of Gabriel Hounds jeans.

Hollis Henry is a former rock star who has agreed to work for one Hubertus Bigend, founder of a company called Blue Ant, and Milgrim is a recovered drug addict Bigend comes to own in return for his expensive rehabilitation. What's most interesting is that Bigend, the big boss man of our two heroes, is neither protagonist nor antagonist; he's someone of whom to be very wary. Hollis's reluctance to work with him is the first foreboding warning that her employer, who seems jovial and even caring at times, is actually something of a danger. Milgrim's loyalty to Bigend is not out of fear, but he is afraid to tell Bigend when he veers away from orders, largely because it is the first time since joining the payroll that he has thought for himself. That's kind of worrisome.

It doesn't come to much, however. Zero History may have received a lot of critical acclaim for its masterful authorship, but many fans agree that the plot falls flat. Take our fears about Bigend, for example. In the end, it isn't hard for Hollis to keep him in check; a simple deal suffices to keep him from harming any of the characters we care about before the actual threat of what he might do is even revealed. The main story suffers from a similar lack of stakes, and lack of consequence. One review I read on Amazon had a long-time fan who read both Pattern Recognition and Spook Country put down the book two thirds of the way in, and I know exactly the feeling. There just comes a point when there are only so many pages left and you can tell whether the end will be climactic, or completely unsatisfying. Gibson's latest novel failed to come up with a story the readers would care about, and an ending that would at any point have them on the edges of their seats.

No one can touch Gibson's writing, and it's got to be damn hard to keep at it after peaking with Neuromancer in 1984, but Zero History is only worth reading if you're jonesing for his masterful wordsmithing and you're already bored to tears with the rest of his work. It may be the best story about denim ever written (maybe), but from William Gibson we've come to expect something a little more consequential. Then again, maybe that says a lot about us as readers. We're always looking for something big, and we're not easily sated.

April 3, 2013

Game of Thrones Season 3 Premiere: Valar Dohaeris

The most pirated and anticipated, ratings record breaking premiere got off to a steady start. Did some good old catching up with all our old friends, a minute or two north of the wall, a little check-in with the surviving Baratheon "licking his wounds" back in Dragonstone, and a peak at the carnage the Starks come across at Harrenhal while they bide their time, have a few pints before they get around to taking King's Landing.

I know this is the time for rising action, but start killing each other already! Two seasons and Joffrey's head is still on his body. What's with that? At least Stannis gave it a shot; what are those Starks doing? Dany has an excuse. Her dragons are too small to kill even the puniest of kings, and she doesn't have much of an army. Yet.

Thanks to the books we can just read ahead to the action, but Valar Dohaeris did start a few things off. The great ethical dilemma of Daenerys' completely dehumanized slave army, Jon Snow climbing up the wildlong ranks from prisoner to... not prisoner, and Sansa's opportunity for escape, and in fact, even wanting to escape King's Landing, or outwardly admitting that she does, is a new and very welcome development. I haven't figured out why I feel fiercely protective over this arguably very weak, sad character, but just think how much room there is for development when you're a complete crybaby and a coward. If she kills Joffrey one day it'll be the best thing a woman has done since the Witch King (okay not really), but she'll have to both beat Arya to it, and humble herself enough to her sister to ask for fencing lessons.

It's difficult to tell to what extent Stannis is still in the game, particularly when he's burning his own soldiers and generals at the stake, and he's not looking too hot. It would be a shame to lose another contender for the throne; the more the merrier. The more to take it from the damn Lannisters. 

A few notable characters didn't appear in this first episode. Where's Arya? Last we saw her she had escaped Harrenhal, and good timing based on what Robb and Lady Stark found there. Hopefully she's near enough for a reunion but probably not. There are also the little stark boys, Bran and Rickon, whom Maester Luwin urged to flee north to the fricking wall in the season finale. Yeah, wish them luck. Osha and a couple direwolves should be able to protect them from the army of white walker things we got a glimpse of up north. Okay, those are on the other side of the wall, but we've seen what kinds of things can happen to children in this show, and at this point, nothing would surprise me.

Don't forget about Jaime Lannister, either. We should expect an update on where he is very soon.

Last season ended with Margaery Tyrell asking King Joffrey to marry her, which made me angry even though the new arrangement saves Sansa having to marry him. Still, what a strumpet. I guess I was most concerned over Sansa's safety if Joffrey is done with her, but that doesn't seem to concern anyone. I guess Cersei has forgotten about the Stark in their midst. Still, if there's one thing that makes me tear my hair out, it's when I don't like a character from the start, and the storyteller flips them on their ass to redeem them. Margaery Tyrell works with the poor in the city and isn't afraid to get shit on her boots in the process. How honourable. I'm running out of villainous characters to dislike.

I hear it's going to be a good season. Winter's coming, and all that. Well get on with it then!