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. One of the best things about cybre.space is that it doesn't look like every other bland, neutral, anodyne Mastodon instance. 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 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:

Altered Carbon

Altered Carbon is now on Netflix, based on the cyberpunk books by Richard Morgan (which I read about 15 years ago and am somewhat fuzzy on). I'm up to ep 5 of 10 now; time for binging is hard to come by but I'm trying.

"Avoid blunt force trauma to the base of the brain, and energy weapons fired at the head!"

Good story adaptation. Doesn't flinch from any of the gross biology, the casual homicides and "organic damage", the sex and nudity. It's some good old-fashioned porn and torture porn at times.

So first, the weird premise: Everyone has an alien-tech chip in their spine which backs up the brain, lets them transfer to another "sleeve" (body). I have problems with this: Alien tech shouldn't interact with Human biology, and how did they get interstellar travel in the very near future? The show doesn't do much to establish the year or future history, but best I can figure:

  • Now? Interstellar travel.
  • 2050? Find alien tech, get brain chips.
  • 2100: Protectorate vs Envoy war.
  • 2350: Present.

I don't remember how much was explained in the book, but it's way too fast up front and then nothing happens for 250 years.

There's too many physical hardware devices, when almost everything should be software projected on any flat surface or into your optic nerve.

The Methuselahs, rich assholes who can't die, don't really show off how debauched they are until a few eps in, but it's pretty tame compared to Caligula.

The Neo-Catholic and Muslim fruitloops who don't want to be resurrected never made any sense to me in the book, and of course they're committing demographic suicide, there shouldn't be any "believers" this long after the chip.

I don't like the goomba actor they "sleeved" Kovacs in, but Ortega, Elliott, Poe, and most of the others are fine. Kovacs' Hello Kitty backpack full of guns makes me laugh every scene. The fight scenes are great, very bloody and physical, up-close combat. The hotel fight was excellent, once the mooks realize the hotel's killing them.

Visuals are sometimes very derivative of Blade Runner, which wasn't at all the impression I got from the book. Later it gets more of its own look, more gutter SF. The trash areas look like Richard Stanley's Hardware, but not as dirty. The upper city has pneumatic tubes for cars like Futurama, and flying cars with manual controls which seems so implausible it may as well be a sleigh with flying reindeer.

But it's well-shot, the CG mixed into the world constantly as you'd expect from neural-interfaced brains.

Should be ★★★★★ because they made a show of guns, fucking, and brain-fucking for me, but the stupid timeline knocks it down to ★★★★☆

What I'm Reading: All Systems Red, by Martha Wells

Murderbot with no Asimov program just wants to watch TV, but is rudely interrupted by threats to its human clients and awkward social skills.

There's not a lot more to say about this novella, very fast and fun, rather Heinleinian. Murderbot is adorable, a cyborg made from clonemeat with autism-spectrum social problems. The mystery/puzzle of the plot is deducible from evidence given, though the political rules aren't, but they're just there to drive Murderbot's character study.

The science, where present, is inoffensive; some kind of expensive wormhole for FTL, otherwise plausible electronics, software, and cybernetics. Not much of the background is given, and I'd like more in this setting, perhaps a picaresque with a unit like Murderbot going star to star solving problems like the Incredible Hulk TV show.

"So, I’m awkward with actual humans. It’s not paranoia about my hacked governor module, and it’s not them; it’s me. I know I’m a horrifying murderbot, and they know it, and it makes both of us nervous, which makes me even more nervous."

—Martha Wells, "All Systems Red"

★★★★★

The Land Before iPhone

In which millennials try to recall kindergarten pre-iPhone

iPhone was nice, but not a big change to my lifestyle; I already had a Treo, and before that a LifeDrive, and before that a Palm III, and had Internet since before I was boinking those kids' mothers. I was basically the model for the Mondo 2000 "R.U. A Cyberpunk" poster (the joke being R.U.Sirius was… nevermind), and yes, I read Mondo2k & Wired before they were dead and/or uncool.