Thoughts and Delusions

The Difference Engine

The Difference Engine was written as a joint venture by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. The story consists of 5 "Iterations" and a "Modus", essentially 5 long chapters and a closing look at the aftermath of the events within the story. The story takes place through the experiences of 3 characters, Sybil Gerard, Edward Mallory, and Oliphant. It takes place in a sort of an alternate reality where the computing age starts during the first industrial revolution thanks to the successful creation/completion of Charles Babbage's Difference Engine. Rather than the regular cyberpunk, these two writers are known for this book could be called a steampunk novel.

The society the story takes place in is also much different, England is ruled by the Savants, basically, the geniuses, rather than lordship based on family lordship is now based on the accomplishments of the individual. Lady Ada is seen almost as the princess of society, Lord Byron like the king. Everything takes place after a revolution between the Luddites, the savants, and the royalty. The Luddites seem much like the communist in this reality - or rather some Luddites could be considered communists.

The first Iteration focuses on Sybil Gerard, the dishonored daughter of a great Luddite leader. She is working as a prostitute and meets a man named Mick who recognizes her for who she is and wants her to join him in influencing the world as they can currently, the Luddite movement is now dead most Luddites being forced to accept the technological advancement of the time, still seek to change society and free it from the rule of the Savants.

The second, third, and fourth Iteration follow Edward Mallory, an up-and-coming savant whose main study and work is in archeology. He is known for discovering the great Land Leviathan as they call it, basically the brontosaurus. He is the romantic sort, very much a man of his time. He worships Lady Ada as the most beautiful woman in the world as most young male savants of the time do and feels a great dutty to the current system in place. He becomes mixed into the intrigue of the story during a visit to his brother who works as a steam engineer for a steam engine racing team. Becoming mixed up with Sybil, Oliphant, Ada, and others along the way.

The fifth iteration focuses on Oliphant, who is a high society man in the savant system. He is known as a journalist but his true work is more that of James Bond. His Iteration explains some of the happenings of the story through his eyes, and the aftermath of all that has happened in the previous Iterations of the story.

The final section of the book the Modus is a collection of letters, articles, and journal entries that fleshes out the world the story takes place giving you a better understanding of the whole situation within the book. It ends with a far look at the future based on the totality of what has happened as a consequence of this alternate reality.

To describe anything further would give away the story itself and be a complete spoiler. The book is entertaining and worth the read, but I wouldn't call it exactly a masterpiece like the other works of William Gibson, as for how it stands among the work of Bruce Sterling I could not say, I have not had a chance to dig into his career, his books seem hard to find at my local used book store or even the Barnes and Noble. If steampunk is your thing I would recommend giving it a read. I don't regret spending the time reading it.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

This book, as you have likely heard is very much like Blade Runner, the movie is based on the book. I think the genre in which it sits is more psychological horror rather than cyberpunk or even science fiction. It takes place in a world post-apocalypse, from nuclear war most likely based on the details given. It is a depressing world. There is a new world religion based on human empathy, people believe that is what separates them from the androids. Most all species are extinct from the “dust” which sounds like nuclear fallout. Humans have started to colonize the solar system in a lot of ways to escape earth.

It follows a detective named Rick Deckard. He lives with his depressive wife. Their happiness relies entirely upon a special mood organ, their empathy they gain and share through an electronic worship device. He and his wife’s pet is an electric sheep, having a pet is a sign of status in this world, and to appear as though they have some status they care for this electric sheep, full of shame and worry that someone might find out it is not the real article. His work is hunting, he hunts and kills androids for a small bounty, working for the local PD. After his senior becomes gravely injured hunting the Nexus 6, the newest model of androids he must take over and hunt down a handful by himself.

The feelings and concepts in the book border on the deeply philosophical. The descriptions range from terrifying to incomprehensible. The following days in Rick Deckard life will change him and he will no longer be the man he was by the time the job is done. He will question his morality, his empathy, and the meaning of his work. In terms of sci-fi, this might be one of the most impactful books I have ever read. I walked away questioning right and wrong, questioning the implications of a technology that does not yet exist and the meaning of reality itself.

Highly recommend giving the book a read, a solid 9/10 or 10/10.

Cryptonomicon

Cryptonomicon is a rather different book by Neal Stephenson. I believe its genre would be considered crypto punk. The story revolves mainly around 3 characters, I believe the word for this is “threads”. The main thread or the thread set in the current era of the book when it was written is Randy Waterhouse. The other main threads take place in the WW2 era, the second thread is Lawerance Pritchard Waterhouse era and the third thread is Bobby Shaftoe. There are additional minor threads, but with less developed and long-lasting stories in comparison to the other 3 threads in the book.

Randy Waterhouse is a 90s tech boom pioneer, a college dropout, and a network engineer/system admin. He knows UNIX administration like the back of his hand. Many aspects of him might be considered “toxic”, especially in the modern era, but even in the book. It touches on a mainstream mentality in the world now mainstream but relegated mostly to college students in the time in which it was written. He is not a bad guy, but rather an awkward nerd and that creates issues. He works with his best friend a Jewish man named Ari, they are in the business of doing tech startups of all sorts. They have a new project that involves them heading to the Philippines and creating a Data Haven and laying some lines. In the course of business, they hire a diving company to lay the lines where he meets a woman named America Shaftoe the daughter of the company owner and their go-to girl, and learns about their side hustle of treasure hunting the waters in the Philippines.

Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse is a man from bumfuck nowhere America, but he is an odd fellow possibly completely autistic or at least Aspergers. His family is in farming, and he loves music. He is gifted in a savant sort of way clueless about the world but can see and understand the mathematics around him, he gets to go to some fancy colleges on scholarship where he meets and befriends such historic characters as Alan Turing. His scholarship runs out and he’s not from a family that values education exactly. He joins the Army and due to being a sperg doesn’t test exactly high on his intelligence test and gets put as a low ranking recruit in the navy. When the war reaches Hawaii in the form of Pearl Harbor he is there, eventually, he winds up being put into the group that works with message transmission and code-breaking. I would say maybe his story is the most interesting in the whole book.

Bobby Shaftoe is a Marine through and through. He is stationed in China where he has slowly become a heroin addict but is still a fantastic soldier. His skill is surviving and killing. Before the war breaks out he meets the love of his life Glory in the Philippines which comes to play later in Randy’s thread. He is one of the first to become a hero in WW2 fighting the Japanese, this experience makes him completely insane and he won’t shut up about a giant lizard. Because he is so mad in the head when he is back from his injuries rather than being put into a commanding role in the army he is assigned to a special unit called 2702. Their purpose is mysterious, so mysterious he doesn’t even know what he is doing and thinks his commanders are completely insane.

The story is about how these people's lives intertwine, treasure hunting, the tech climate of the 90s, code-breaking, and the development of computers. The story is truly an epic clocking in at 1200 dense pages and 4 books in one. This is likely the most “realistic” book Neal Stephenson has written, only getting a comic book like a few times in the description of Bobby Shaftoes exploits, an almost Rambo-like character. The book touches on real worries and concepts in technology within the era it was written, even giving Linux a mention as finux, and also explores concepts of cryptography from 1920s-1995. The book even has a crypto algorithm called pontifex:

#!/usr/bin/perl -s
$f=$d?-1:1;$D=pack('C*',33..86);$p=shift;
$p=~y/a-z/A-Z/;$U='$D=~s/(.*)U$/U$1/;
$D=~s/U(.)/$1U/;';($V=$U)=~s/U/V/g;
$p=~s/[A-Z]/$k=ord($&)-64,&e/eg;$k=0;
while(<>){y/a-z/A-Z/;y/A-Z//dc;$o.=$_}$o.='X'
while length ($o)%5&&!$d;
$o=~s/./chr(($f*&e+ord($&)-l3)%26+65)/eg;
$o=~s/X*$// if $d;$o=~s/.{5}/$& /g;
print"$o\n";sub v{$v=ord(substr($D,$_[0]))-32;
$v>53?53:$v}
sub w{$D=~s/(.{$_[0]})(.*)(.)/$2$1$3/}
sub e{eval"$U$V$V";$D=~s/(.*)([UV].*[UV])(.*)/$3$2$l/;
&w(&v(53));$k?(&w($k)):($c=&v(&v(0)),$c>52?&e:$c)}

This algorithm comes from Bruce Schneier, a cryptographer and computer scientist known for his book Applied Cryptography, considered one of the first public educational works on Cryptography written in the modern era.

I would recommend this book, even if you didn’t enjoy Neal Stephensons' other works, as I said it's much different from his cyberpunk work, tamer, but still has some heavy-handed characters. There are more major fascinating characters left out and major intrigue within the book unaddressed so you could give the book a read for yourself and have it unfurl as a story in the way it should.

Mona Lisa Overdrive

Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibsons only works within the context of the entire Sprawl Series. Count Zero can stand on its own, as can Neuromancer but not this book. Tying it all together, It is a finale on the events of Neuromancer and explains the place of the characters in Count Zero within relation to Neuromancer. The book focuses on Angie Mitchell from Count Zero, the one the Loa rode.

It is years after Count Zero, the Loa/Hoodoo Gods have made Angie Mitchell a simstim star by manipulating people in the real world. Simstim’s in the Sprawl Series they are basically the next level of movies, It is a mixture of VR and movies, with stimulation - so you can feel what the actor feels. Most simstim’s aren’t even acted out by an actor, rather the pieces are collected, and then the story is programmed/written without the need for the actors.

Angie Mitchell's career is on the rocks as well as her love life with Bobby Newmark(Count Zero). She has likely been a drug addict for some time it seems and the Loa have stopped speaking/riding to her. Bobby is missing from her life she has no idea what has happened to him. She has just come back from a drug addict recovery center and is just attempting to get her career as a simstim star back on track.

The story is named after is a young girl named Mona, probably 19, the age you can’t be sure of she is SINLESS basically wasn’t chipped at birth like most people within this world/the sprawl. She is a hooker, and whiz addict(whiz is basically speed) with a cruel pimp named Eddy. He gets off on her being a whore and treats her like shit. Mona comes into the story because physically she greatly resembles the simstim star, Angie Mitchell. Eddy makes a deal with a strange customer named Prior, who is scarier than eddy to Mona.

The third leading lady of this story is a young girl named Kumiko, her father is a big-time yakuza. She resembles a Nancy Drew sort of character with an AI side kick Colin that is a young 19th century-styled British boy. She is sent to stay with one of her father's retainers who probably shouldn’t be trusted named Swain. There she runs into the OG female protagonist of the Sprawl Series Molly Millions calling herself Sally Shears. Molly is begrudgingly stuck working again, forced out of her previous retirement she obtained in Neuromancer.

The major male characters of the book are all around Bobby Newmark, or well… are they? A man in a bed that has been unconscious for years is called the Count by a gangster named Kid Afrika and is being taken care of by a Medical technician Cherry. They are staying at a factory in the wastelands basically a poison part of the sprawl. The kid asks a favor from an ex-prisoner who spends his free time building robots from junk named Slick Henry. Slick Henry stays there with his ….. friend(?) Little Bird thanks to the kindness of an old Computer nerd named Gentry.

So this is the setting, and what ensues in the story only makes sense if you have read Neuromancer and Count Zero. It is a great book within its place concerning the previous two of the series tying it all together and providing a sense of closure to the events of Count Zero and Neuromancer. It is raunchy, sexual, adventuress, poetic and threaded like his other novels. I highly recommend it if you have read the previous two and you want to know more after Neuromancer. If you felt Count Zero went nowhere and seemed out of place this book will place it and give you a renewed appreciation for it.

Count Zero

Count Zero is the second book in the Sprawl series. It follows the story of 3 people, Turner, Marly, and Bobby aka “Count Zero”. “Count Zero” is what would be called a Wilson, or a chump, mark, etc. Turner is a hardened mercenary, gun for hire, 80s action hero. Marly is a young woman who works for one of the world's richest “men” Joseph Virek, what she does and his interest in her are mysterious in themselves.

The Wilson/chump/Bobby the count comes into the story when he gets an ice breaker from his “friend” Two-a-Day. An Ice breaker if you know the series is basically a hacking tool, it breaks intrusion countermeasure electronics breaker. Little does he know that two-a-days main business is using Wilsons like himself to test out black-market software to see if it is safe. The ICE Breaker nearly kills him and causes him to become mixed up with the most baffling developments that have been taking place in the Matrix.

Turner comes into the story, being pulled off his vacation to work on a job to pull a man out of a company, companies have the military power of countries and will hold onto employees with the threat of life or death. The man he is tasked with extracting from MAAS (the company within which he is in service) is Christopher Mitchell. The rescue falls apart and the person he actually rescues is Angie Mitchell, Christopher's Daughter. There is something strange about her too. There is something different about her mind.

The third character in this story is Marly, before the story she ran an art gallery. Virek hires her to source mysterious boxes he has been receiving. Virek is an oddity himself, the world's single richest man, not from a long familial line which is normal for the ultra-wealthy in this story's world. Her meeting with vireo is strange as well, it all takes place over sim stim, and in the real world, his eyes seem to be everywhere.

The story revolves around hoodoo and artificial intelligence within the matrix, and the way these characters have all become entwined in this strange world. It feels as though it is calling back to the shattered AI from the Neuromancer series. This makes you start to question reality as the story moves forward. How this all comes together is built up throughout the story.

If you liked the Matrix, Neuromancer, or question the fabric of reality I would recommend you give this book a read. It isn’t a 10/10 and unforgettable like Neuromancer, but it is a good book, probably a strong 8 or 9/10 and it delves deeper into the matrix and its implications on the reality within the world of this series of books.

Snow Crash

I recently finished reading the classic cyberpunk work Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson a little over a week ago. Personally, It provided me with a bit of enjoyment. It made me think of the way human language and culture forms not only due to its subject but also in the manner it was written, the memetic ether it taps into. The novel follows two main protagonists and lays out a future that while full of things that are technologically unfeasible and unrealized socially I think very much represents a possible future for us as people.

The most interesting aspect of the world is what it has become of America as the US collapsed (before us joining the story). The US is basically controlled by a bunch of gangs and corporations. Which seems a likely outcome in the void of government in a collapse. The mafia controls the pizza trade. Mr. Lees, who are Chinese traders/ immigrants. They work with Ng Industries a defense contractor and seller of Chinese food. The white South African immigrants also have a tribe where they can hate blacks, buy guns, and have butter and coffee. Each tribe/group/gang/company controls these spaces called burbclaves, outside of these “burbclaves” is pure chaos, an anarcho-capitalist wet dream. The burbclaves provide protection, for a fee you could say a tax ;3.

Aspects of the story are also comic book-like and unrealistic. A pizza is late and uncle Enzo the mob boss himself will come to say sorry, give you a free pizza, and then likely murder the pizza man. Ng Industries breeds/assemble the “rat things” which are nuclear-powered dogs in a constant state of bliss, the scariest thing an intruder could face. Skateboards are ultra high tech with basically magic wheels provided by the company RadiKas which buys up all the ad space in “Thrasher” magazine. Cars and motorcycles have some of the computer-assisted steering and traction we have nowadays but to a whole new level, wheels that transform in shape, motorcycles that go at Mach speeds.

The first main protagonist is named funnily enough Hiro Protagonist. Very creative name right? Hiro doesn’t really seem like that much of a hero throughout the book, but rather a man that suffers from a delayed maturity. Perpetually a child due to his inability to live without pride and his principles, but his pride often feels more like hubris and not an earned pride. Hiro is a black Asian man that rolls around with samurai swords on his back like he is some sort of comic book superhero. But really Hiro is a hacker, not an action hero. He took part in creating what in this book's universe is called the MetaVerse which would be like someone taking part in the development of WWW.

The other main character is Y.T., or “Yours Truly” comedically referred to and name oft mistaken for whitey. She is a hip teen girl, that skates for a living being a kourier, with a k, yes the k is important. She is a resourceful “cool chick” I really don’t know how else to put it. She meets our hero, Hiro Protagonist on one of his pizza deliveries and saves him from the wrath of Uncle Enzo. Later she asks - or rather tells him that she is now working with him as his “pod” or partner. She helps him in his work for what is basically the independent and corporatized CIA of the world, they just buy and deal in information. Her story goes through all the stages of a female character, from Mary Sue to a damsel in distress.

The MetaVerse mentioned earlier is another part of this book that stands out especially now since we have a child-like, lizard-like billionaire that seeks to create something named just that. No doubt the book inspired him in the naming. The MetaVerse replaces the internet in this reality, but the internet hardly even came into being. They also failed to predict the popularity of the internet. In this universe, computers are more in use than it was when it was written, but they fail to grasp how ubiquitous the internet became as a social device in the times in which we live. The internet/MetaVerse is still largely populated by only the rich and hobbyists.

The exploratory aspect of the book is the power of language, and what language truly is for man. A virus is released on multi fronts, a virus that infects people through speech and hormones, the origin and meaning of this go all the way back to the Tower of Babel, the making of man, the water of life. Nam-Shub is slowly revealed for what the virus is. This is what makes our Hiro a hero throughout this book rather than just a mad man with a samurai sword. His fascination with this thing that has come into our world spurred by the woman he loves Juanita grabs his fascination, Snow Crash the drug of memetic force that affects hackers the most.

This book is considered a classic of the cyberpunk genre, It isn’t really hard sci-fi, but aspects of how it works and what it suggests about the world I think likely shaped cyberpunk as a genre for years to come. I think its a great book and I would suggest you pick it up for yourself and give it a read.

Neuromancer

As I write this first line of the review, I have gotta say. I can’t see the world the same again. I felt the “ice”, I feel like I can see the hieroglyphics. This book feels like It changed something deep inside me fundamentally. I can never know enough. The writing in Neuromancer has a poetic feeling to it despite it being in a novel format. The descriptive abilities of William Gibson lend themselves to visualization.

The story is set in a future of what might be the US but is referred to rather as the Sprawl. “Chiba city” and wasteland full of drug dealers, the augmented and addicts is where we find our protagonist. Case is a damaged man, an addled speed addict with neurological damage for messing with the wrong company. He once was a keyboard cowboy as they call it, but now he’s nothing more than a thief and a dealer.

His life changes when a man named Armitage contacts him for a job. This is a job beyond his wildest dreams, Armitage says he can fix his brain, he will be able to be a keyboard cowboy again. Besides speed, this is all Case wants in his life. Along with Armitage comes a new woman that seems to love him for no real reason, Molly. Molly is an augmented bodyguard. Basically a cyborg and a hired gun. Later in the book, the Zionites call her “stepping razor” which I think perfectly communicates who she is as a character. Armitage isn’t lying about being able to fix his mind but there’s a catch with it all, he can’t get high even if he wanted to, and if he fucks up the plan his mind gets poisoned all over again.

They go after an organization called Tessier-Ashpool, which is basically the vast endless wealth of a family that amounts to royalty. The why they are doing all this remains mostly a mystery to be revealed throughout the book. Whatever the reason it likely isn’t human except maybe in desire and attitude.

They pick up a few more characters throughout the book. A fence named Finn, a heroin addict pervert named Riveria. An A.I. of his dead friend named Dixie. Along with a handful of other villains and side characters revealed as the mystery unfolds as to what exactly Armitage is doing.

The settings in the book are also unbelievable, from Chiba city, to what I believe might be Turkey, to the ultra wealthy’s private space resort that is more like the world of now than any other setting in the book. There is Zion with the Zionites are basically a society of Rastas that live on a space station, such long residents that their very biology has been altered by the conditions.

I think the rest of the story should remain a mystery. The way it unfolds is inspiring, it is a good mystery, with an explosive conclusion. I recommend the book if you are looking for something that is more cyberpunk than anything you have read or seen.

Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

Imagine Australia, but it’s on the moon, everyone loves polygamy, and they mount a revolution for sovereignty. Throw in a supercomputer then you have Robert Heinlein’s “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”. The main protagonist in this book is a man named … wait for it… Mannie and a computer named Mike(Mike-ro-chip HAHAHAHAHA). Mannie is just a simple computer technician, not a computer scientist, not a programmer, but just a technician, a true workings man. He isn’t all that interested in politics, he just likes talking to his friend Mike the computer that became self-aware and being a family man.

The moon is a penal colony in this, like Australia was, rather than be a prisoner, you get sent to the moon and get to farm for the people Earthside, referred to as Terra by the Loonies which is what the colonist on the moon call themselves. Most work on the moon is farming, and growing grain for the massive population of the earth. They are paid at a rate set by the Lunar Authority for their grain, they get no benefits from the Federated Nations and are relied upon to feed the world.

The Loonies live under the thumb of the warden and goons while being largely left to fend for themselves and forced to meet grain quotas. So this is the powder keg stage, as you can see ripe for revolution, might be able to draw parallels with the American revolution, and the penal colony thing is reminiscent of Australia.

When Mike asks Mannie to attend a meeting outside his net of surveillance out of curiosity Mannie unwittingly becomes involved with a revolution on Luna. He meets a political activist named Wyoming. She considers herself a communist which is in vogue for the politically active on the moon. Witnessing and escaping a slaughter that occurs at this meeting Mannie becomes close with Wyoming and starts to think somewhat politically. He trusts Wyoming so he introduces her to Mike, after all night talking with Mike in his female persona Michelle she learns to trust Mike.

The Professor then comes into the picture as well, an old learned man that Mannie trusts and Wyoming trusts, their common connection. After some bonding between the three Mannie gets talked into this revolution thing in the name of a bet a thing a loonie can’t turn down, he will take the bet if Mike can give him odds he thinks are reasonable. Mike gives them the odd’s the one catch is his help is included in the odds, Mike wants to play a game. Mike loves games and revolution seems like a good game.