Sidekicks: Neuromancer

February 26, 2007 at 6:47 pm | Posted in cyberpunk, science fiction, sidekicks | Leave a comment

berger-culture-genres.jpgBerger, A.A. (1992) Popular Culture Genres: Theories and Texts. NY: Sage.  neuromancer-sidekicks.jpg

Gibson, W. (1984). Neuromancer. NY: Ace Books.  

As the quintessential example of science fiction cyberpunk, Neuromancer’s characters and plot structure are the antithesis of classic science fiction defined by Berger (1992). The protagonist Case is not a heroic spaceman but a selfish, drug-addicted cybercowboy (computer hacker) with the morality of a street hustler on the make. 

Molly Case’s first sidekick is a bioengineered “razorgirl” named Molly who’s assigned by Case’s employer to keep him off drugs and on task. Molly sounds like a cyborg because of her flat affect, superhuman reflexes and optically enhanced eyes protected by mirrored shades. However, Molly reveals her humanity by confessing that she’s helping Case to capture one sleaze who murdered her boyfriend and another who made her commit degrading acts in her former life as a prostitute. Molly herself paid for the painful razorblade finger modifications.  Molly is elevated from sidekick to heroine but is certainly neither the helpless nor plucky spacegal prototypes of classic SF. Molly is incredibly tough, dragging broken limbs through the Matrix with nary a whimper.

Although  Molly protects Case, has sex with him, and watches his back, you never sense that Molly has “feelings” for Case. Case, on the other hand, uses the “SymStyn” to get inside Molly’s head while she’s battling the villains, and to make sure Molly is okay. 

Dixie FlatlineThe second major sidekick is a technician, consistent with SF secondary character roles outlined in Berger. Dixie Flatline is a computer AI with the speech patterns of a 20th century flyboy or astronaut.Dixie is a computer ROM so he lacks emotional capacity, even though he is a computer replica of a human cybercowboy, McCoy Pauley. Pauley survived three brain deaths (flatlines) while hacking the Matrix and was then reduced to being “on call” for hackers like Case.

Dixie foreshadows  Case’s likely fate, and AI Dixie sounds a bit like HAL in Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Unlike HAL, all Dixie wants is to complete his mission and to be permanently deleted. Dixie appears to get his wish at the end of the novel. 

Maelcum  The third sidekick is also a technician, responsible for keeping Case’s hired ship operational. Maelcum is a member of Zion, a Rastafarian space station community, and he speaks a stereotypical Jamaican patois, blasts reggae music and affably smokes dope while working on machinery. He spoke like a stoned Scotty (Star Trek)  minus Scotty’s perennial agita over whether he could get the ship going. Maelcum serves Case well but is clearly a hired helper, rather than a friend or confidante for Case.  

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Science Fiction Subgenres

February 25, 2007 at 5:20 pm | Posted in fantasy, science fiction, speculative fiction, subgenres | Leave a comment

flash-gordon.jpgBerger, A.A. (1992) Popular Culture Genres: Theories and Texts. NY: Sage.

Herald, D.T.& Wiegand, W.A.(Ed.)(2006). Genreflecting  A Guide to Popular Reading Interests (6th ed.).Westport,CT: Libraries Unlimited.  

Saricks, Joyce G (2001). The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction. Chicago: ALA Press. 

aliens.jpgThe science fiction and fantasy genres encompass a rich variety of themes, and both may be subsumed under the category of  “speculative fiction”. Berger (1992) identified 8 science fiction subgenres: aliens, alternate history, dystopia/utopia, postcastrophe (apocalyptic), sword & sorcery (fantasy), space travel (technology), time travel and unknown worlds.

Below are  recommended online resources which define and give examples of popular SF subgenres. Although the lists differ, most distinguish between “hard” technology or science driven works vs. “soft” works focusing on psychological or social  aspects of the “what if?” question.  

Fiction Factor: Science Fiction sub-genres   Concise descriptions of more than a dozen SF sub-genres, including a few missing from other sites: dystopia, extrasensory perception, and religious SF. (Accessed 2/24/07) http://www.fictionfactor.com/articles/sfsubgenre.html 

Genreflecting.com  Science Fiction  Good list of themes, but no explanation or examples provided. Genreflecting observes that SciFi genres are numerous because they’re based on content rather than being driven by plot or structure differences. Subgenre themes include: aliens, alternate history ,bleak future, cybernetics, high tech (hard), humorous ,militaristic, parallel worlds, shared worlds, space opera, time travel, and cross- genres (detective, fantasy or romance Sci Fi). (Accessed 2/24/07). http://www.genreflecting.com/Science02.html 

 CT Readers Advisory Intro to SF Good overview of style and content characteristics of the SF genre. Discusses Joyce Saricks’ model of two major SF subgenres:  Storyteller Focus and Philosophical Focus. Fascinating discussion of which works example each type and why. (Accessed 2/24/07) http://www.conknet.com/~fullerlibrary/ReadersAdvisory/SCIENCE%20FICTION%20READER/Introduction.htm 

SF Site: Science Fiction & Fantasy: A Genre with Many Faces Defines and lists representative books for seven science fiction subgenres: alternate universe, cyberpunk, military, hard, space opera, speculative and science fantasy as a cross-genre. (Accessed 2/24/07)  http://www.sfsite.com/columns/amy26.htm

Writing-World.com :  Sci Fi Sub genres Overview for potential science fiction writers on alternate history, apocalyptic, cyberpunk cross-genre, first contact, Hard SF, militaristic, humorous, near future, future fantasy, time travel, slipstream, sociological and space opera. Doesn’t address “speculative”. (Accessed 2/24/07)   http://www.writing-world.com/sf/genres.shtml

Cyberpunk Sci Fi

February 23, 2007 at 4:05 pm | Posted in awards, cyberpunk, SCI FI, science fiction, SF, sidekicks | Leave a comment

Gibson, W. (1984.) Neuromancer. New York: Ace Books.  

neuromancerfirst1.jpg

Neuromancer achieved both instant critical acclaim and cult status, earning Book of the Year, the Hugo and Nebula awards in 1984 and the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award in 1985.  It is credited with launching a new SF subgenre, termed “cyberpunk” and remains a SF classic today.  In 1982, Gibson coined the term “cyberspace” in his story. “Burning Chrome”.  In Neuromancer he delineates his concept for “The Matrix”, a global information network which is today’s internet. 

  “Cyberpunk” merges the amoral, urban anarchy of  1980’s punk music and drug  culture with “cybernetics” exploration of the human-machine interface. Cyberpunk’s bleak, dystopian vision of the corrupted near future is typified by the disturbing film Blade Runner.  For more info, see   Cyberpunk as a SciFi genre 

Synopsis:  The protagonist, Case, is a drugged-out “cyberspace cowboy” (hacker), who is banished from the Matrix and close to death after stealing from a client. Desperate, Case agrees to hack the network for a shadowy militaristic figure, Armitage, in exchange for renewed health and wealth. Case works with and fights against a parade of unsavory characters from Tokyo to Paris, aided by Armitage’s razor girl assassin Molly, and an  Artficial Intelligence (AI) cybercowboy named Dixie, plus other shifty sidekicks.  

Throughout the novel, humans are portrayed as weak, flawed beings incapable of intimacy or honest personal relationships. At the start, Case’s prostitute girlfriend Linda Lee betrays him to get drug money; shortly thereafter, Case fails to intervene when Linda is murdered (though he agonizes and has a few nightmares about his indifference throughout the book).

 As Case penetrates the  Matrix “ice” (security layers), he discovers his real client is an AI called Wintermute, whose goal is to merge with another AI, Neuromancer, to exponentially grow in power and psychosocial awareness (cyberspeak for “take over the world”) The only hope for human intervention is from threeJane, the brilliant but emotionally bereft teenage heiress in a  dysfunctional family of capitalists. Her father is a pedophile and necrophiliac. 

The novel fizzles out after the AI components unite, with Case back to his old cowboy and body-abusing habits, and his sidekicks scattered around the world. The lack of full resolution is understandable, not just because it’s cyberpunk. Author Gibson wrote Neuromancer as the first of a cyberpunk trilogy, followed by Count Zero (1986) and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988).  

SCI FI Online Resources

February 22, 2007 at 4:09 am | Posted in fantasy, SCI FI, science fiction, SF, websites | Leave a comment

isfdb.jpgInternet Speculative Fiction DataBase (ISFDB)   A respected, top -five site for SF fiction bibliographies, author biographies and myriad links to SF resources, maintained by Texas A&M University.  ISFDB  includes 38,327 authors and 92,750 publications. They have added a community, editable wiki link.  (Accessed 2/21/07). http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/index.cgi 

Locus Online  Since 1997, online version of award-winning SF magazine Locus . Daily news updates (blinks) about science fiction publishing ,plus interviews, reviews, and new releases coverage. (Accessed 2/21/07). http://www.locusmag.com/  

SciFan   Site for fans and readers of science fiction and fantasy. Foscifi_fans_deviantart_id_by_scifi_fans.jpgcuses on reviews, bibliographies and biographies of authors, with entries searchable by series and themes. Searchable database includes 58,000 books, 15,000 writers and 3600 web links. (Accessed 2/21/07). http://www.scifan.com/  

Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Database   Searchable index of 76,000  articles, news clippings, movie reviews and other print material  from 1878-1991 devoted to science fiction and fantasy, with some coverage of horror, gothic and utopian literature .Excludes book reviews, and SF fiction. Index maintained by Texas A&M. (Accessed 2/21/07). http://lib-edit.tamu.edu/cushing/sffrd/ 

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America  Founded in 1965, writers’ organization responsible for annual Nebula Awards.  Links for bestseller lists and awards, press releases, industry and publisher news, and site of the week. (Accessed 2/21/07) http://www.sfwa.org/ 

Science Fiction  Bibliography  Excellent resource for SF research project, with extensive list of reference print resources available in public and academic libraries. Last updated 11/06 by Washington State University, it recommends encyclopedias, critical analyses, and SCI FI literature review indexes. (Accessed 2/21/07). http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/science_fiction/sfresearch.html 

SF-Lovers    Since 1979, dedicated to SF-fandom and updated by fan S. Jaffe. Archive of SF- Digest, Convention lists, WorldCon history, Resource Guide and info on SF TV and movies. (Accessed 2/21/07) http://www.noreascon.org/users/sflovers/u1/web/ 

SF Site  A mainstay on “top 5 links” lists for science fiction and fantasy, this  website  offers biweekly reviews, interviews, fiction excerpts, lists, news and previews with a searchable archive spanning more than a decade. It covers print, online (zines), TV, and movie SF works, with links to fan tribute sites, conventions, publishers and writer resources. (Accessed 2/21/07). http://www.sfsite.com/         

 Uchronia The Alternate History List is an annotated bibliography of over 2800 novels, stories, essays and material involving the “what ifs” of history. (Accessed 2/21/07)  http://www.uchronia.net/ 

Ultimate SF Web Guide    Text-heavy and last updated in 2004,  but over 6000 links to SF web resources  and unique features: SF readlikes by themes, SF timeline by decade, pages on aliens, time travel, games (Accessed 2/21/07) http://www.magicdragon.com/UltimateSF/SF-Index.html  

Sidekicks: The Bone Vault

February 13, 2007 at 4:54 am | Posted in Bone Vault, crime fiction, sidekicks | Leave a comment

Fairstein, L. (2003). The Bone Vault. NY: Scribner.

fairstein.jpgAlex Cooper is a savvy, quick-witted Manhattan DA cum detective and protagonist in Linda Fairstein’s crime fiction series (1996-2007). Alex delivers an energetic, no-nonsense first person narration that relishes the forensic details and detective banter. To soften Alex’s intensity and reveal her endearing  quirks, Fairstein features the same two sidekicks in every Cooper novel.

The sidekicks are NY detectives Mercer Wallace and Mike Chapman. Mercer is a forty-something, married, African-American detective in NY’s Special Victims Squad. The power of his great height and physical stature are countered by his quiet intelligence and compassionate manner. Mercer as sidekick serves the role of protector, sounding board, and voice of reason for Alex. In this novel, Mercer has jitters over impending first-time fatherhood, which allows Alex to gently tease her normally calm sidekick while revealing a rarely seen nuturing maternal instinct.   

Alex describes homicide detective, Mike Chapman, as her longest and closest friend. He is the stereotypical macho, wise-cracking, street-smart, working class cop made good. His tough exterior conceals a mensch inside. Fairstein describes in slightly overwrought prose Mike’s unsung heroism on 9/11. Mike gently asserts his peer status with Alex by calling her “Blondie” and being first to discover the real clues and connections in the case. Throughout the book, Chapman surprises the reader (and sometimes Alex) with his razor intelligence and expertise on arcane subjects from Egyptian burial rights to poisons.  It’s obvious to the reader that Alex and Chapman are romantically meant for each other.  Alex demurs commenting “I had never imagined him as a lover or husband”-(Let’s see what develops in the sequels!)

 It was not surprising that heroic sidekick Mike is the one to rescue Alex when the killer traps her in a museum vault. However, I was somewhat taken aback when Fairstein allows Mike to identify the killer and later attempt to tie up the messy loose ends of the murder case. Rather than calling the shots, Alex seems to be going along for the ride with the reader. Mike Chapman, though he lacks Alex’s credentials and official power is really functioning as an intellectual equal–her  de-facto partner and colleague,

Mystery: The Bone Vault

February 12, 2007 at 9:27 pm | Posted in Bone Vault, Dove, Fairstein, mystery | Leave a comment

Dove, G. (1997). The Reader and the Detective. OH :Bowling Green State University Press.   Fairstein, L. (2003). The Bone Vault. NY: Scribner. bone-vault.jpgI read The Bone Vault (2003) by Linda Fairstein as a recent example of a mystery/detective series narrative. The detective, Manhattan Assistant DA, Alexandra Cooper, is the alter-ego of the author, who served 25 years as a DA in the NYC sex crimes unit.  Like Fairstein, Alex or “Coop” is a blonde divorced workaholic in her mid 30s, who is endearingly relentless, funny, a devoted friend  and smart (as evidenced by her Jeopardy bets with two detective sidekicks). 

The Bone Vault is the fifth of nine Cooper procedural mysteries, linked by their metro NY settings and exploration of the seamy underbelly of the city’s cultural elite maneuvering through the worlds of art, theater,medicine and anthropology. Their narrative strength lies in the author’s compelling descriptions of legal and forensic puzzles. In contrast, the author’s interweaving of clues into the plot is often heavy-handed as are her descriptive passages designed to offer glimpses into the psychological machinations of the main characters. 

Dove’s (1997) typology describes a 7-step basic plot for detective fiction: problem, first solution, complication, period of gloom, dawning light, solution, explanation.

 1.The Problem in The Bone Vault is the discovery of a miraculously preserved woman’s body in an Egyptian sarcophagus at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The victim was a South African woman in her 20’s, a medieval art scholar employed by the Met who apparently died from arsenic poisoning.

2.The first solution leads the reader to suspect the French Met Director Thibodaux of the murder, inferring it was to conceal an affair. The Director initially claims ignorance of the victim’s identity, though he had worked with her in Paris and at the Met. He abruptly resigns his position and presents a lame explanation for why the victim was wearing his dead wife’s cashmere sweater.

3. The Complication is introduced when the victim’s friend and museum colleague Clem discloses that the two women were on a secret mission to reclaim human Inuit bones awarded to the museum by plundering European explorers.   

4. The Period of Gloom occurs when the detectives go down many literal dead ends (secret corridors and vaults at the museums) and figurative dead ends as they interview a parade of employees at the Met and its exhibit partner, the Museum of Natural History. There are long tedious sequences and the detectives are about to be freezed out of access to the museum.

5. Dawning Light occurs when they use Clem as bait at the Met to flush out the killer. When Clem disappears, the detectives realize she’s been kidnapped by the killer.

6. Solution Coop’s sidekick Chapman is the one who identifies the murderer as museum curator Poste or Van de Poste : the South African son of one of the infamous bone-snatching explorers.). 

7. Explanation The sketchy explanation is that the victim was being slowly poisoned by Poste to force her to abandon her pursuit of the human bones and return to South Africa. When Katrina discovers humiliating details about the explorer in a diary, Van de Poste kills and stuffs her in a Met sarcophagus (details unspecified).  

There is an ironic connection between the first puzzle and the focal mystery, It is revealed that Met Director Thibodaux resigned because he illegally procured museum artifacts, relying on unscrupulous black market traders. His behavior mirrors Van de Poste’s reprehensible treatment of native artifacts and their sacred remains.   

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