Saturday, 2018-11-10

A Trilogy of Trilogies: re-reading William Gibson


NeuromancerCount ZeroMona Lisa Overdrive


Virtual LightIdoruAll Tomorrow’s Parties

Blue Ant

Pattern RecognitionSpook CountryZero History

It’s hard to overstate the effect Gibson’s fiction had on me as a young person. While I never went as far as dressing as a cyberpunk (like some people I hung out with), the ideas and images from Neuromancer were permanently burned into my brain.

Re-reading all of these books on a holiday was instructive. I’ve re-read some of them multiple times (probably Count Zero most often, but I’ve only read Zero History once) and that makes it pretty easy to re-read quickly.

One thing that stands out is that while the Sprawl and Bridge trilogies have protagonists who are from the underclass of society, Blue Ant makes a sharp swing into the upper middle class for its main characters. This, in conjunction with them being in the employ of the unimaginably wealthy Hubertus Bigend, lead to the books resembling some sort of technothriller Sex in the City (except there’s very little actual sex).

I think Gibson realized this and the next novel The Peripheral returns to the theme of the underclass confronting tech and society.

I like the second books in each trilogy better than the first or third. Idoru especially is good with its discussion of celebrity culture.

Technology - Gibson is credited with inventing “cyberspace”, but the “shared consensual hallucination” as depicted in the Sprawl books makes no goddamn sense from a user perspective. It’s a bit like the famous “I know Unix!” scene in Jurassic Park - great eye candy for someone who doesn’t know how a computer works, but not really productive.

But there’s so much else in the Sprawl books that’s just there, standard SF for the time. Orbital space platforms. Super-fast SST planes. No global warming. Sure, the US seems to have collapsed and the Eastern Seaboard is one vast shantytown, but the reasons for that are more because Blade Runner is cool, not really explained. And people still smoke, and read papers, even if it’s delivered by fax.

And a secondary plot point - the ability to virtually inhabit someone else’s entire sensorium - is so far away from anything we have now, it’s not even funny. Come to think of it, so are orbital space stations.

Sadly as Gibson nears the “real world” in the later books, the tech gets less gee-wiz and more dated. Sure, cyberspace is useless but it’s so goddamn cool. The later books are instantly anchored in time with specific Apple products and forum software versions.

That’s why the earlier books have aged better. Sure it’s funny to point and laugh at the things Gibson “got wrong” - but why not see them as an alternate future that diverged sometime in the 1970s? (This is explored in Gibson’s short story “The Gernsback Continuum”, so it’s a propos.)

In summary, I actually think the Bridge trilogy is where Gibson is at his best - lucid writing, telling stories about hard-luck characters trying to do good in a crapsack world, and a great mix of plausible and sensawunda SF.

Wednesday, 2018-10-31

Wednesday, 2018-10-17

Photography exhibits 17 Oct 2018

My buddy Eugene was in Stockholm for business so we had a brew or two and saw some photography.

Robert Doisneau - Kulturhuset

A bit of a bait-and-switch - the poster prominently featured La Baiser de l’Hôtel de Ville but I suspect the arranging agency doesn’t have the rights to that nor his other more famous pictures. Instead we get some gentle views of the outskirts of Paris, many taken in the early 1940s during the German occupation.


Noémie Goudal - Stations

Huge prints of photographic collages with a strong graphical aspect. Impressive work.

Paul Hansen/Åsa Sjöström - Hand to Hand

Earnest reportage about the need for clean water and effective antibiotics.

Fotografiska Talent 2018

A selection of young(ish) Swedish photographers. Some good work, but a lot of suburban introspection too.

Lars Tunbjörk - Tunbjörklandet – blicken från sidan

The highlight. Tunbjörk was Sweden’s Martin Parr and his garishly lit visions of the absurdities of Swedish life in the 90s are haunting, funny, and affecting.

Tuesday, 2018-10-16

351: Hexagonal orchards

Reused code from 577 to bruteforce a sequence that I could search for in Sloane.

Monday, 2018-10-15

407: Idempotents

Got a good way just by observing patterns. Could have used Sloane to find a sequence but forgot about it. Resolved to be more thorough in the future.

Sunday, 2018-10-14

323: Bitwise-OR operations on random integers

I suck at probalities so had to google for an answer.

Friday, 2018-10-12

297: Zeckendorf Representation

I learned some extra stuff about Fibonacci numbers, that’s always fun.

Thursday, 2018-10-11

577: Counting hexagons

I enjoyed this one. As before I confirmed the sequence using brute force and geometry, then tried to search OEIS (Sloane) for sequences.

The geometry was tricky, so I was glad to finally pull it off.

Sunday, 2018-10-07

138: Special isosceles triangles

Generating the first few terms in the sought sequence with brute force leads to integers that can be searched for in OEIS.

Saturday, 2018-10-06

587: Concave triangle

Quite easy as befits its difficulty ranking of 20%.

I recycled my code for finding a root via bisection from the Blancmange problem.

I looked up efficient numerical integration methods and found a Perl implementation of Romberg’s method. I didn’t quite trust it so installed a Perl module for it instead. It turns out the first one was sufficient so it’s in the code now. I don’t want too many weird modules as dependencies.