Friday, July 11, 2008

William Gibson and Neal Stephenson.

I hate to say it, but I think William Gibson may be a one trick pony.

Neuromancer was a revelation. I don't know if Gibson created the cyber terms we use today, or was just responsible for their wide usage. But a fun and interesting book, if a little difficult to read.

His next 3 books were equally good. But....pretty much the same book.

His last two books, Pattern Recognition and Spook Country are set in the present to near future, and I've had a difficult time getting into them.

He has an oblique style, coming at things sidewise, never really explaining. Which is O.K. if the payoff is there. He throws out brand names and new technology -- but it comes across as desperately hip to me now, as if he's gleaned all the fresh concepts and words off the net.

Contrast Gibson to Neal Stephenson, who maybe didn't create cyberpunk, but who wrote the quintessential cyberpunk book: Snowcrash. Then moved on to a Victorian flavored S.F. book, Diamond Age, which seems to me the quintessential steampunk book; and then wrote his own near future novel, Cryptonomicon.

It seems to me that Stephenson tackles bigger subjects, in more depth, and more entertainingly than Gibson. He's matured as a writer, where Gibson seems to have reached his limits.

Stephenson's Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World) is a magnificent trilogy, and I breezed through the 1000 pages of each. Didn't understand all the science and philosophy, mind you, but enjoyed the story and maybe, just maybe, picked up a few mind expanding concepts.

I really need to plow through Spook Country and Pattern Recognition before I come to any final conclusions.

But there it is -- just the fact that I feel as though I need to "plow" through the books shows the problem.


Jon said...

I like them both more or less equally, but keeping in mind they're different flavors.

I think Pattern Recognition might be Gibson's best book, even--yes--supplanting Neuromancer. Spook Country is nearly as good. I think what I like about these two "near future" (or whatever to call them) books is the excessively weird stuff they examine that is essentially extracted from our real world.

Plus, they're just tightly well-done books.

I like his earlier stuff too; Neuromancer and Idoru were my favorites of those.

Stephenson is fantastic, if... long. I think his pre-Baroque Cycle books hallmarked his big weakness: his endings. The endings to many of his books seemed... rushed, abrupt, not-thought-out, anti-climactic, something. Cryptonomicon--which I really loved--seemed especially frustrating in this regard; we go through a 1000 pages of buildup for... yeah.

The Baroque Cycle was perfectly satisfying, on the other hand. So yeah, he's definitely matured as a writer by these books.

Have you read The Difference Engine by Gibson and Bruce Sterling? There's the quintessential steampunk book...

Duncan McGeary said...

I should have included The Difference Engine. To me, that book was a little more straight forward in style, and the characters had more warmth.

I think maybe Gibson's style just isn't jibing with me right now.

But I do think Stephenson has more depth, too.

Technically, Diamond Age was steampunk, but it had the flavor full blast.

I think The Iron Dragon's Daughter by Michael Swanwick may be my favorite Steampunk. Elves as corporate raiders...too cool.