Category Archives: Books

Cyperpunk Dystopian Matrix Books and Graphic Novels

Snowcrash (1992): A review

Well, it only took me about three months, but I finally finished Snowcrash (to be fair it’s long and I read slowly). Here’s my review of the novel.

Published in 1992 by Neal Stephenson, Snowcrash is considered by many to be among the perennial novels in the cyberpunk genre. It is a relatively modern favorite, written in the 90’s instead of many of its older predecessors written in the 60s and 80s, and thus has a more modern flair. The story revolves around two main characters. The first is called Hiro Protagonist (no, I’m not kidding), a hacker extraordinaire that is also a skilled katana sword-wielder. He was also one of the original coders of big parts of the online virtual world called the Metaverse. The second main character is called Y.T., and is a courier in the real world, a line of work that involves Y.T. delivering packages using an advanced form of skateboard that she “poons’ cars with (attaches a suction cup connected to a strong retractable cable) in order to weave around the traffic on the highways. The story takes place in the future, where all governments have collapsed and corporations have become the de facto countries of the world, leading their own organizations with their own areas, security, and borders with passport control.

The title “Snowcrash” refers to a new type of drug that can be transmitted via the blood, but also virtually, by looking at a specific screen online. This new scary drug is the main plot driver in the book, and the story revolves around learning more about Snowcrash, who is using it and why, how it came to be, and what it is meant to do in the future as a dangerous weapon.

In terms of Cyberpunk stories, I liked this one a little more than Neuromancer and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which were the first two cyberpunk novels I read before this one. The dialogue shines through in the story, with casual witty banter among the characters. The novel feels like a 20-something wrote it, or perhaps it was written for that age group, and with the deferential main character’s name the novel definitely feels a bit like a parody of other cyberpunk novels.

Still, though, the fact that a dangerous drug is on the streets was not compelling enough of a plot point for the story to keep me reading. In addition to the fact that the novel is quite long, I found myself putting down the book many times and picking it back up. AS you read you see that things happen, but the pace feels somewhat slow, especially with nothing really to build up to until the very end. Even then, I felt that things were just happening in the story, and I was following along.

Nonetheless, there were a lot of cool ideas that I picked up in this novel. The first is the idea of corporations ruling the world, instead of governments, as I feel the current reality is a mix of corporations and governments truly ruling. I also quite like the concept of loglo which was introduced in the book. Loglo is the lighting of logos on highways and the world in general.

Another favorite was perhaps one of the most overpowered pseudo-villain of all time, Raven. In addition to being highly skilled with spears and knives, his enemies are afraid of killing him for reasons that I can’t explain without spoiling the book.

One thing I didn’t like, however, is how much Stephenson likes to explain things to the reader. Early on Hiro explains aspects of his reality to the reader, as if he knows that you are reading. This was a stark contrast from reading Neuromancer, which read as if all the lingo was already common knowledge for the reader, which can be quite confusing. This wasn’t too bad, until I got to the artificial virtual character called the Librarian. This read like a teacher’s dream student scenario, with Hiro asking all the right questions and the Librarian happily supplying them, with me drearily reading the back and forth while never having wanted to know the questions or  answers. A good chapter and a half is dedicated to the Librarian explaining archaic mythology and ideas from old civilizations, something that I suspect Stephenson loves knowing about but that didn’t quite fit with a cyberpunk novel.

Despite its drawbacks, it’s a good read, just be prepared for a long novel and if you’re a fast reader it’ll be a quick read. I’d give it 8/10.

Ready Player One and its Utopian Educational World

ready_player_one cover

A captivating read

In case you’re unfamiliar, Ready Player One is a novel that was written by Ernest Cline and is being adapted into a movie by Steven Spielberg. The story follows Wade Watts in his pursuit of finding a hidden treasure in a worldwide online virtual world called the OASIS. The OASIS is where people play games, escape their reality,  do their business transactions, and learn in school. It’s also a huge ode to video gamers and is chock full of pop culture references.

This book was so much fun for me that I read it twice (which never happens) and it’s a very fast read, too.  Quite the page turner. I remember thinking how exciting and interesting a film adaptation would be, which is why I could hardly contain my excitement when I saw the trailer for this movie for the first time in theaters.

Beyond describing the love videogamers have of completing a game and all of its fun referencing, there’s a lot that can be gleaned out of this book as thought pieces, even if the book itself never takes the time to consider the ideas.

Ready-Player-One-Oasis

A Beautiful Education System

I remember the first time I read the book, I was amazed by the educational world described in the book. In the OASIS, the government has online virtual classes where a program monitors student language and behavior, allowing the teacher to simply teach and nothing more. This means that bullying becomes a thing of the past, and enables teachers to do much more than they traditionally are able to do.

As a teacher, a virtual world free of bullying, fully immersive and with the ability to engage and inspire students in such novel ways is like a dream come true. But here’s the thing:

This could actually happen.

Why not? We’ve already seen students use ipads more and more in classrooms, and now the VR setting on anyone’s smartphone simply requires a headset to view it with, and we’ve already got visual VR which can connect to headphones to become audiovisual VR.

Imagine if teachers could use this VR system in their classrooms to take students to the surface of Mars. Or take them inside a cell to observe a mitochondria. Or take them back in time to witness the rise and fall of Ancient Rome. Imagine if teachers didn’t need to act as counselors, or disciplinarians, and could simply teach the content they love!

What are your thoughts? Do you think this will be the future of education, or is it unlikely to become a reality?