Serial Experiments: Lain

You know how so much of anime has a naïve teenage protagonist with a lot of school drama, who gets powers, and saves the world? Well, Lain starts there and then veers wildly off, into Internet Protocols, simulationism, UFO/Gaea/psionics conjectures, secret societies, radical home computer upgrades, and not only doesn't save the world but there may never have been a world to save. There's also a lot of really great music; the OST and Cyberia mixes are big parts of my Coding Soundtracks playlist.

What I'm Watching: BLAME!

BLAME! was a manga by Tsutomu Nihei from the late '90s/early '00s, like the result of listening to the Terminator soundtrack and Front Line Assembly and drawing that. A weird loner named Killy with an overpowered gravity gun, wanders an infinitely large ruined city, infested with Exterminators that want to kill all the unauthorized Humans, as he searches for someone with the Net Terminal Gene which would allow Humans to connect to the city again. It's bitter and mostly silent, harsh industrial lines and weird kabuki-masked spidery bots and fake people.

It's not quite "cyberpunk", because it's not the street finding new uses for (military-corporate) technology, but techno-savages trying to survive the street killing them. Cyber-apocalyptic, like Terminator's future, Screamers, or Hardware.

What I didn't know is there was a movie made, available on Netflix!

And, uh, it's the manga. The point of view characters are Human survivors in a village, and why they were mostly safe (but dying out) until Killy shows up is the main plot. The city is as brutal and unliveable as the manga, and the technical scenes are fantastic. Killy is quiet and blank, because he knows they're screwed and they don't have what he wants, but he'll help as long as it's practical and he might get some advantage over Safeguard. Very slight nitpicks: There's only a couple of bot designs instead of the rampant cyberization of Human and near-Human and the whole environment of the manga. There's a plot twist I didn't see any clues for, but I might've spaced out at some run-and-scream bit. There's a lack of discussion of the nature and motives of Cibo, that I think was also needed. Maybe the Man in Black Rides Off Into the Sunset ending and denouement is a little trite for the manga which is so harsh and unforgiving. But for anime adaptation of an impossibly harsh and inhuman source material, I've never seen better.

★★★★★

What I'm Reading: Software/Wetware by Rudy Rucker

I must've read Software on release in 1982 or in the next year; heavy stuff for a 12- or 13-year-old little mutant Mark. I've reread it a number of times since, and got more out of it each time. This time, it's notable how short and fast it is for so much information.

I guess I should mention, since some people are neurotic about this, there's a lot of sex, drugs, nudity, more sex, really weird drugs, cannibalism, and bodily functions. Also a lot of violence, but the people who are most neurotic about harmless, consensual sex or drugs seem to think murdering people is fine, respectable behavior. This is why you Humans freak me out and repulse me.

Software (1982): Cobb Anderson goes from crusty old drunk to immediately going along with ("waving") the Boppers' (AI robots he created and then freed from Asimovian slavery) plan to immortalize some Humans by the messiest process possible. Sta-Hi Mooney's given very short shrift here, much of what I remember of him actually comes from the next book.

The Bopper architecture and programming are discussed in depth, and the Little Boppers' war on the Big Boppers (centralization instead of anarchy) is surprisingly, pointedly relevant to current reality for a 36-year-old book. Since the book is set in 2020, and Cobb made the Boppers for Lunar mining, uh, we're WAY fucking behind on space and robotics in our shitty timeline.

The religion Personetics is super obvious as a scam, and yet Humans really fall for Dianetics (in my OMNI rereads, Dianetics is advertising every issue with this faux-serious tone), or for that matter any religion, which are all just scams to take your money and control you. And then everything goes sideways, lack of backup systems and over-controlling middle management ruin everything. Fin.
★★★★★

Wetware (1988): I read this just going into college to fuck my brain up. Probably haven't read the whole thing since then, skimmed it in parts. The first half following Sta-Hi, er, "Stahn" Mooney and a number of boppers in a city stolen from the boppers on the Moon, is great. FANtastic, full of weird drugs, sex, murders, people with rats in their heads. The Boppers are desperate and vindictive here, war and evolution pushing them to the edge.

Second arc about Della and her new "son" on Earth is annoying, weird, and… As Cobb says, "Della's parents are jerks, I'll tell you that much. What kind of couple is named Jason and Amy?" Cousin Willy Taze screwing around (sometimes literally) with AIs is the only redeeming part of this entire shitty set of chapters. The Gimmie (easily the best name ever for the Federal government) reacts only with murder and fear, like usual. While I mostly agree with the principles of "Manchile's Thang!", the free love equality cult, I dislike every part of the delivery.

Third arc back on the Moon, and the end of the Boppers, seems a little formulaic crime drama for a while, until it gets into what price Stahn's willing to pay for revenge and to recover his wife in any form. The weapon used is interesting; as our chips get more complex, side attacks like that look more practical. The moldies and Happy Cloak's return are all friendly and heroic here, which is… not how it'll be in later books.
★★★★☆

The first book is under 180 pages, and it flew past in a couple days; it's dense but fast, a lightspeed bullet to shatter your brain. Second's just over 200, feels much longer, and took me a couple starts; most of the good parts in 5 days, but then after the second arc I paused a couple weeks. Freeware is 300. Realware is another 315. And I recall these aren't any less dense. May need some lighter fare first.

Beyond Cyberpunk Web Design

What I want to note here is the UI in the original BCP and Billy's app. Borders filled with wiring and lights. Knobs and switches. Big chunky click areas. Punk rock, graffiti art. When you click things, audio and animations tell you something happened. Not so much the "Jacking into the Matrix. Into the FUTURE!" clip.

It's much easier to find and read information in the web version, but it's not fun. It's ugly and boring. Like almost everything on the web and apps these days, from Jony IVE-1138's sterile white room prisons where you're tortured for daring to have a personality, to all these endless linkblogs.

There are places with personality, but not many. The web looks like shit. Update: Brutalist Websites has some GeoCities-like aesthetics in a few. Others are sterile voids.

And that's bothering me about this blog. It looks OK, the stolen Midgar art and my '80s neon colors set some kind of tone, but it can be so much more. So in the weeks and months to come, I'm gonna be doing some redesign, make this into something weirder, if not full-on GeoCities. The RSS feed should be uninterrupted, but I'm going to put a lot more resources on the front page.

What I'm Reading: Artificial Condition, by Martha Wells

Murderbot returns, looking for its origin story and some peace and quiet to watch stupid TV shows in. Along the way, it meets a transport with excess time/intelligence on its… well, no hands… and some dumb kid researchers who need security, and has to pass as something it can't even make eye contact with.

"Yes, the giant transport bot is going to help the construct SecUnit pretend to be human. This will go well."

As I was hoping for, there's more background, several mall-like stations are explored even if Murderbot can't do a lot of social interaction. Several nice fights and "how stupid can Humans be?" bits.

Short and SUPER breezy, but exactly what I want more of.

★★★★★

Talking on the Internet

Or—more likely—a wide variety of nasty computer viruses. If Hiro reaches out and takes the hypercard, then the data it represents will be transferred from this guy’s system into Hiro’s computer. Hiro, naturally, wouldn’t touch it under any circumstances, any more than you would take a free syringe from a stranger in Times Square and jab it into your neck.
And it doesn’t make sense anyway. “That’s a hypercard. I thought you said Snow Crash was a drug,” Hiro says, now totally nonplussed.
“It is,” the guy says. “Try it.”
“Does it fuck up your brain?” Hiro says. “Or your computer?”
“Both. Neither. What’s the difference?”
Hiro finally realizes that he has just wasted sixty seconds of his life having a meaningless conversation with a paranoid schizophrenic. He turns around and goes into The Black Sun.
—Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash, ch. 5

Not always, but sometimes.

Cyberpunks or Just Punks?

It's not that I don't like Neuromancer, it might be in my top 10 favorite books (but more towards the bottom of that list), but every time I see it mentioned as the "seminal cyberpunk epic", I roll my eyes, because I know these people have never read another cyberpunk book, there were others before Neuromancer and long after.

So educate yourself, make yourself less eye-rolling to me. Here's a little tiny reading list. When you're done with that, hit the KUOI archive on the right, find my Cyberpunk page, work through that. Or maybe I'll pull it out of archive and update it by then? There's a lot in the last 10-15 years since I touched the page.

First:

Then: