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Current Topic: Fiction

Reamde: A Novel by Neal Stephenson
Topic: Fiction 8:18 pm EDT, Sep 13, 2011

Neal Stephenson's new book ships next week.

Neal Stephenson, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Anathem, returns to the terrain of his groundbreaking novels Snow Crash, The Diamond Age, and Cryptonomicon to deliver a high-intensity, high-stakes, action-packed adventure thriller in which a tech entrepreneur gets caught in the very real crossfire of his own online war game.

In 1972, Richard Forthrast, the black sheep of an Iowa farming clan, fled to the mountains of British Columbia to avoid the draft. A skilled hunting guide, he eventually amassed a fortune by smuggling marijuana across the border between Canada and Idaho. As the years passed, Richard went straight and returned to the States after the U.S. government granted amnesty to draft dodgers. He parlayed his wealth into an empire and developed a remote resort in which he lives. He also created T'Rain, a multibillion-dollar, massively multiplayer online role-playing game with millions of fans around the world.

But T'Rain's success has also made it a target. Hackers have struck gold by unleashing REAMDE, a virus that encrypts all of a player's electronic files and holds them for ransom. They have also unwittingly triggered a deadly war beyond the boundaries of the game's virtual universe--and Richard is at ground zero.

Racing around the globe from the Pacific Northwest to China to the wilds of northern Idaho and points in between, Reamde is a swift-paced thriller that traverses worlds virtual and real. Filled with unexpected twists and turns in which unforgettable villains and unlikely heroes face off in a battle for survival, it is a brilliant refraction of the twenty-first century, from the global war on terror to social media, computer hackers to mobsters, entrepreneurs to religious fundamentalists. Above all, Reamde is an enthralling human story -- an entertaining and epic page-turner from the extraordinary Neal Stephenson.

On Anathem:

Though he's been consistently ambitious in his work, this latest effort marks a high point in his risk-taking, daring to blend the elements of a barn-burner space opera with heavy dollops of philosophical dialog.

From The Diamond Age:

Dr. X was the ideal man for this job because of his very disreputability. He was a reverse engineer.

Hackworth was a forger, Dr. X was a honer. The distinction was at least as old as the digital computer. Forgers created a new technology and then forged on to the next project, having explored only the outlines of its potential. Honers got less respect because they appeared to sit still technologically, playing around with systems that were no longer start, hacking them for all they were worth, getting them to do things the forgers had never envisioned.

Reamde: A Novel by Neal Stephenson

All That
Topic: Fiction 5:34 am EST, Dec  9, 2009

David Foster Wallace:

I never, even for a moment, doubted what they'd told me. This is why it is that adults and even parents can, unwittingly, be cruel: they cannot imagine doubt's complete absence. They have forgotten.

Paul Graham:

Adults lie constantly to kids. I'm not saying we should stop, but I think we should at least examine which lies we tell and why.


I've gotten old enough that I now understand why adults seek to escape reality. Paradoxically, I think I was better at escaping reality when I was younger.

Michael Chabon:

The thing that strikes me now when I think about the Wilderness of Childhood is the incredible degree of freedom my parents gave me to adventure there.

Mark C. Taylor:

Belief not tempered by doubt poses a mortal danger.


Father Brendan Flynn: You haven't the slightest proof of anything!
Sister Aloysius Beauvier: But I have my certainty!


It's important to understand that it isn't Congress that must change -- it is us.

All That

A Love Letter To Polyglot Sprawl
Topic: Fiction 7:46 am EDT, May 27, 2009

China Miéville's new novel, The City & the City, gets starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist.

Denise Hamilton:

If Philip K. Dick and Raymond Chandler's love child were raised by Franz Kafka, the writing that emerged might resemble China Miéville's new novel, "The City & the City."

Miéville's protagonist is Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad of Beszel, a fictional city-state that Miéville locates in southeastern Europe. The place is drab, the people glum, the culture a faded pastiche of Ottoman, Slav, Byzantine and Austro-Hungarian Mitteleuropa. It's a decaying, depressed world reminiscent of the 1949 film "The Third Man," where shadows, paranoia, secrecy and unseen forces reign.

Then things get really twisty.

Beszel has a ghostly and unacknowledged doppelgänger, a city-state called Ul Qoma that overlaps, or "crosshatches," with its twin, and it soon becomes clear that the dead girl has come from this mirror place whose very existence is a crime to acknowledge.

Mark Steyn:

There is literally no language in which what’s happening in suburban Maryland can be politely discussed.

David Kolb, on sprawl:

Are we imprisoned in a universal Disneyland?

Jonathan Franzen:

The technological development that has done lasting harm of real social significance -- the development that, despite the continuing harm it does, you risk ridicule if you publicly complain about today -- is the cell phone.

Bruce Sterling:

"Poor folk love their cellphones!"

A Love Letter To Polyglot Sprawl

Infinite Summer
Topic: Fiction 8:26 am EDT, May 22, 2009

Focus is the new distraction.

You've been meaning to do it for over a decade. Now join endurance bibliophiles from around the web as we tackle and comment upon David Foster Wallace's masterwork, June 21st to September 22nd. A thousand pages ÷ 93 days = 75 pages a week. No sweat.

Winifred Gallagher:

Even as a kid, I enjoyed focusing. I took a lot of pleasure in concentrating on things. You can’t be happy all the time, but you can pretty much focus all the time. That’s about as good as it gets.


If you've never wept and want to, have a child.

Infinite Summer

Inherent Vice
Topic: Fiction 10:48 am EDT, Apr 26, 2009

Thomas Pynchon:

Part noir, part psychedelic romp, all Thomas Pynchon— private eye Doc Sportello comes, occasionally, out of a marijuana haze to watch the end of an era as free love slips away and paranoia creeps in with the L.A. fog.

It’s been awhile since Doc Sportello has seen his ex-girlfriend. Suddenly out of nowhere she shows up with a story about a plot to kidnap a billionaire land developer whom she just happens to be in love with. Easy for her to say. It’s the tail end of the psychedelic sixties in L.A., and Doc knows that “love” is another of those words going around at the moment, like “trip” or “groovy,” except that this one usually leads to trouble. Despite which he soon finds himself drawn into a bizarre tangle of motives and passions whose cast of characters includes surfers, hustlers, dopers and rockers, a murderous loan shark, a tenor sax player working undercover, an ex-con with a swastika tattoo and a fondness for Ethel Merman, and a mysterious entity known as the Golden Fang, which may only be a tax dodge set up by some dentists.

In this lively yarn, Thomas Pynchon, working in an unaccustomed genre, provides a classic illustration of the principle that if you can remember the sixties, you weren’t there ... or ... if you were there, then you ... or, wait, is it ...

Ships August 4, 2009.

Inherent Vice

Walking on Water
Topic: Fiction 3:46 pm EDT, Aug  2, 2008

Winton's descriptions of water— riding over it or through it, diving deep within it, conquering it or submitting to its overpowering force—are majestic. Much of the drama of Breath, and there is considerable drama, comes from the boys' growing intimacy with the sea. A number of triangle relationships develop in Breath: Pikelet, Loonie, and Sando; Pikelet, Sando, and Eva; but also, and perhaps most important of all, Pikelet, Sando, and the water itself. It is not just convention when Winton names the waves: they are living, roaring, chest-beating characters in this novel. Winton's waves are active, alive, "seething vapor" and "spritzing froth." They rumble, they boil, they flick, and they poleaxe. After Barney's, the boys graduate to Old Smokey, another of Sando's secrets, an enormous, supposedly unsurfable wave, a distant line of white water that breaks a mile offshore. Even getting to Old Smokey requires a trial, a leap from a rocky cliff;

I looked down into the maw and waited for the surge to return.... Birds shrieked behind me. The rocks streamed with fizz. Every crack spilled rivulets and streams and sheets until suddenly the sea came back and Sando started yelling and then I braced and jumped.

The offshore wave, too, feels hellish, with its thunderous noise and vibration, tearing at Pikelet's dangling legs as he waits, terrified: "Mountains of water rose from the south; they rumbled by, gnawing at themselves...." Then, as before, Pikelet is simply too afraid to stay where he is, and when he finally begins to surf, the language turns heavenward: "The angelic relief of gliding out onto the shoulder of the wave in a mist of spray and adrenaline. Surviving is the strongest memory I have; the sense of having walked on water."

Far away, so close:

"Being in the water alone, surfing, sharpens a particular kind of concentration, an ability to agree with the ocean, to react with a force that is larger than you are."

If Schnabel is a surfer in the sense of knowing how to skim existence for its wonders, he is also a surfer in the more challenging sense of wanting to see where something bigger than himself, or the unknown, will take him, even with the knowledge that he might not come back from the trip.

To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen, who play with their boats at sea--"cruising", it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about.

... What does a man need---really need? A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in---and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment. That's all---in the material sense.

... Where, then, lies the answer? In choice. Which shall it be: bankruptcy of purse or bankruptcy of life?

From earlier today:

I honestly believe that for my startup(s), the personal edge I gain from swimming or surfing in the ocean every day in a small town in Florida is larger than any advantage I got by living in Atlanta.

Walking on Water

david foster wallace: untitled excerpt from something longer that isn’t even close to halfway finished yet
Topic: Fiction 1:19 pm EST, Jan 12, 2008

My audit group’s Group Manager and his wife have an infant I can describe only as fierce. ... Its features seemed suggestions only. It had roughly as much face as a whale does. I did not like it at all.

Quite an enjoyable little snippet.

david foster wallace: untitled excerpt from something longer that isn’t even close to halfway finished yet

Mathematicians in Love, a Novel by Rudy Rucker
Topic: Fiction 9:16 am EDT, Mar 11, 2007

This book came out late last year.

A wild, funny tale. Crazy mathematicians compete for the love of two women across space, time and logic.

Berkeley grad students Bela Kis and Paul Bridge have discovered the mathematical underpinnings of ultimate reality. But then they begin fighting over the beguiling video-blogger, Alma Ziff.

First Bela gets Alma’s interest by starting the wildest rock band ever. But then Paul undertakes the ultimate computer hack: altering reality to make Alma his. The change brings more than he bargained for: Alma is swept away into a higher world of mathematician cockroaches and cone shells bent upon using our world as an experimental set-up for deciding an arcane point of metamathematics.

It’s up to Bela to bring Alma back, repair reality, stop the aliens, and, most important of all, discover the true meaning of love.

RU Sirius recently interviewed Rucker; transcripts and audio are available.

Amazon has reviews.

From Publishers Weekly:

Rucker cleverly pulls off a romantic comedy about mathematicians in love. Following 2004's Frek and the Elixir, this even zanier excursion into alternative versions of Berkeley, Calif., is set in university towns called Humelocke and Klownetown, full of quirky, charming life-forms human and otherwise and ruled by a god who's the female jellyfish-creator of Earth. All this seethes around Bela Kis; Bela's roommate, Paul Bridge; and Bela's girlfriend, Alma Ziff, who ping-pongs between them in a sometimes acute, sometimes obtuse love triangle. Bela and Paul struggle for their Ph.D.s under mad math genius Roland Haut by inventing a paracomputer "Gobubble" that predicts future events. While most of the mathematical flights may stun hapless mathophobes, Rucker's wild characters, off-the-wall situations and wicked political riffs prove that writing SF spoofs, like Bela's rock music avocation, "beats the hell out of publishing a math paper."

From Booklist:

Rucker draws on his academic mathematics background for a mind-bending tale about the hazards of reshaping reality to suit one's own ends. Set in an alternate-universe Berkeley, California, dubbed Humelocke, the story revolves around a bizarre romantic triangle involving cerebral math majors Bela and Paul and their seesawing love interest, Alma. With the dubious patronage of their mentally unbalanced advisor, Professor Roland, Paul and Bela develop a proof for a radical new theorem that may facilitate prediction of future events with astounding accuracy. The roadblock to capitalizing on their discovery lies in creating a "paracomputer" to spit out usable data. When the cockroach monsters Professor Roland claims to have seen begin appearing in Bela's mirror with a written solution, reality begins to take a decidedly surrealistic turn. In a riotously twisting plot, complete with hypertunnels, alien shellfish from a parallel universe, and an improbable resolution to the threesome's romantic dilemma, Rucker pulls out all the stops for one of his most entertaining yarns to date.

Mathematicians in Love, a Novel by Rudy Rucker

Topic: Fiction 11:22 am EDT, Sep 23, 2006

Mark Danielewski (House of Leaves, recommended here recently) has a new book, Only Revolutions, which the Oregonian calls "a palindrome of a book." Fans of Idees Fortes in the first year of Wired Magazine may be inclined to check this out. (Remember Mind Grenades?) The new book has earned starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus; see below.

This week, the New Yorker briefly notes the book release:

In his new novel, Danielewski is up to his old tricks -- multicolored and upside-down text -- and some flabbergasting new ones, including a double-ended structure that obliges the reader to flip the book every eight pages. (Two place-holding ribbons are provided.) The plot involves a pair of teen-agers, Sam and Hailey, who narrate alternating accounts of a freewheeling adventure through America.

Earlier this month, the LA Times profiled Danielewski:

Whereas "House of Leaves" was a fantastical Borges-via-M.C. Escher riff on everything from cutting-edge literary theory to the rhythms of L.A. nightlife and failing marriages, at heart the new novel is quite a traditional American tale — boy meets girl, they fall desperately in love, they hit the highway. Granted, "Revolutions' " 16-year-old heroes, Sam and Hailey, time-travel through 50 years of world history, conjure automobiles from thin air and wisecrack with a century's worth of obscure teenage slang.

In Psychedelic Love, they also reviewed the new book earlier this month, calling it "a dizzying, psychedelic he said-she said." The review wraps up:

"Only Revolutions" will likely infuriate traditionalists, who (like one friend of mine) might well call it "ejaculations of ink on paper." But it's also a quintessential novel of our time, embodying, as it does, art / technology / literature / design and the spirit of experimentation.

Whether or not you go for this kind of thing, "Only Revolutions" should be paid attention to, if only because of how it embraces and utilizes new technology and how, in turn, that technology has shaped it.

Amazon has this to say:

Mark Danielewski's first novel Ho... [ Read More (0.6k in body) ]


House of Leaves: The Remastered Full-Color Edition
Topic: Fiction 10:29 pm EDT, Aug  2, 2006

Had The Blair Witch Project been a book instead of a film, and had it been written by, say, Nabokov at his most playful, revised by Stephen King at his most cerebral, and typeset by the futurist editors of Blast at their most avant-garde, the result might have been something like House of Leaves.

I recently discovered this book (intentionally) misplaced in the history section of my local Borders. So far I'm enjoying it.

House of Leaves: The Remastered Full-Color Edition

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