Dancing to Dirges

Depressing and happy things Tim says, sometimes while drunk

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The creed that drives me

Locus Magazine has a regular article called "Yesterday's Tomorrows". It covers genre literature from long ago, ranging from the golden age up to as recent as the mid-eighties. This last issue covered a series of novels released by Ace, all of them first novels from promising authors. I was surprised to see that I owned one of them in the original printing; In The Drift, by Michael Swanwick. Of course, the book from that series that I know best is Neuromancer. The journalist spent some time talking about the specific impact that book had on his life, and I found myself agreeing on a lot of points. But it teased out a realization from me, something I hadn't *focused* on. I've been kicking it around for the last day or two, and I'd like to try to get it down in text. If I can.

Neuromancer came to me at an important time in my life. I guess you'd call it a nodal point, if you were Bill. It changed the way I thought. It changed the way I read and wrote and just... the way I lived. It was the first in a long series of tectonic revolutions that would occur to make me who I am, and how I am. So it's an important book to me. And for the longest time I didn't understand why. I thought I knew. I thought it had to do with the cyberpunk thing. But I don't think that's it, not any more. When I read that book I was falling in love with something that I couldn't get my head around. When I started writing I was always having to run away from the influence I perceived Gibson to be having in my work. I latched on to a lot of the tropes of cyberpunk. I think we all do, those of us who read him at a certain age, in a certain way. So I had to train myself to not approach those things, for fear of imitating them. It was difficult, but I got somewhere with it.

Listen, the thing I fell in love with as I read Neuromancer wasn't the nascent internet, or the geo-domes, or the razors under her nails. Those things were great, but they weren't *it*. I fell in love with language. I fell in love with a driven plot hung in unimaginable style and decked out with beautiful, beautiful words.

I fell in love with what a book can be, and how well it can be executed.

That's why so much of cyberpunk failed for me. They were trying to be Neuromancer, but they chose the wrong tools. They thought it was jacking in and artificial madnesses and voodoo algorithms. But that was just the furniture. The art, the energy, the real gift of that book was the language. People don't see that enough.

The flip side to that is that too many people just depend on the language, and don't take hold of the plot like they should. I can name dozens, but it's not etiquette. Here's my point. A beautiful book can be exciting. An exciting book can be beautiful. Neuromancer was that. It was exactly that.


At 7:44 PM , Blogger The Brillig Blogger said...

I think I liked Kim Stanley Robinson's WILD SHORE more than NEUROMANCER. In any event these Terry Carr Ace specials from the early '80s were a very special part of my college reading.

At 12:07 AM , Blogger Psychophant said...

I think we all have those books, if we are to keep reading (and that is the door to start writing). Works that justify the effort and give us hope of retrieving the magic as we open a new book. Books that crystallize the reading experience, so they are always coloring how we see other books. And, I suppose, how we write.

Neuromancer started handicapped in that evaluation, for me, because the first contact was as a translation. So my first direct contact with Gibson's prose was Count Zero, and I only realised the language's power (maybe because I had read more books in English then) with Mona Lisa Overdrive. By then I had already had an epiphany.

So my love of English was fixed by Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, my French by Les Trois Mousquetaires, and my Spanish by both Delibes and García Márquez.

At 8:26 PM , Blogger colin said...

For me it was more of a gradual thing. I slowly became aware of how beautiful books can be. I was certainly less aware when I read Neuromancer. At the time I just thought it was a good yarn.


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