All the Jazz That's Fit to Print

My New Year's resolution was to make a list of all the things (particularly fiction) that I read. Not to read more, but just to keep track of it. Part of my insecurity as a writer is the fact that I don't feel particularly well read, in light of all the books that I want to read this is a particularly stark problem.

Just keeping a text file with everything on the list, seemed (and is) a great way to keep track of things and provide a clearer record of what happens.

I've mostly kept up with this, I deleted the file for a while (thanks to git I was able to rescue it, and I'm back in business,) but it's all up to date. Also throughout the year, I've kept writing little notes about what I've finished reading, with some rough thoughts. It's my blog after all.

I finished--a few weeks ago--Melissa Scott's The Jazz, which I really enjoyed reading. Melissa is a contact from another context [1], which makes reading her work even more fun. Reading this book lead me to do some thinking about the state of the cyberpunk sub-genre.

I liked the book, the characters, and more importantly how it was able to take the "cyberpunk" sub-genre in a much more contemporary feeling story. While cyberpunk stories are great fun, the fact that by, say 1993, it was clear that the early cyberpunk (which set the mold for the genre) misunderstood the internet in all but the most fundamental ways. The Jazz, fixes this problem deftly. [2] At the same time, however, it brings a couple other problems with the genre to bare.

When I finished the book I was left with the feeling that the ending was a little bit flat, or it felt a little rushed, or something. And then I remembered that I felt the same way about Neuromancer (Gibson), and even "Trouble and Her Friends," Scott's probably most oft recommended book (at least by me). And then it struck me, that the biggest flaw with cyberpunk is that the action and dramatic tension derive from the mythology of the cyberpunk setting.

But it's science fiction, you say. And, indeed, it is. But here's a SF secret, I think in most/the best cases the SFnal elements of a story don't provide dramatic tension but just set up. Lets take a couple of examples: In John Scalzi's `Old Man's War <>`_ the tension comes from a very conventional war, from mystery about what happens to the main character's wife, from the main characters friendships, and so forth. The fact that it's a space opera and they have computers implanted in the heads is... background, and a device to put the characters in the right situations. In say Neuromancer, without the mythology (cyberspace, AIs, etc.) the characters would have been high the entire story rather than just most of it.

The end result is that the resolutions to the conflicts are very unsatisfying because there's something that feels totally contrived in the cyberpunk story. In Neurmancer I disliked the characters and the plot/setting, and the "hard to pin down" feeling about the ending was too wrapped up in this, while in The Jazz, I loved the characters and the story, and I learned something pretty important about cyberpunk and dramatic tension. Can't argue with that.

I've read more things recently, but I've run out of room in this post, so I'll get to some of the other ones later.

Onward and Upward!

[1]Complete with a "holy shit! you're that Melissa Scott," moment which I think I was able to mostly keep to myself.
[2]This isn't to say that it got everything right, but it got things like spam more or less right, as well as the sort of interesting identity-based concerns of the internet. I'm not particularly interested in how effective fiction is at predicting the future, but there are times when a poor conception of the future reflects a poor understanding of the present. Which a 98-00 era traditional cyberpunk story would have been. This wasn't that, and I really enjoyed that.
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