Category Archives: Books

Cyberpunk Matrix Books and Graphic Novels

Richard K Morgan: Cyberpunk influencer of our time

Today’s post centers around my new personal inspiration for Cyberpunk, Richard K Morgan. Most of you may know him as the guy who wrote the source material for the Netflix hit TV series Altered Carbon. Some may know him as the write of the Takeshi Kovacs trilogy, of which Altered Carbon is the first book (and you should definitely read the other two, since Season 2 will be based on the other 2 books!).

But Richard is a very interesting guy, and I think it’s worth delving into this talented writer’s past to get to know him better, and also to help us understand what we might be able to expect from him in the future, as well as gauge what kind of influence he might have on the Cyberpunk genre.

Early Years

So let’s start at the beginning. Richard was born in London and was brought up in the village of Hethersett, near Norwich. He went to good schools, buried himself in reading and music, was rather solitary with few friends, and had no interest in drinking or girls.

He then started his first year at Queens college in Cambridge, and all that changed. He discovered alcohol and drugs, but most importantly, he experienced a heart-breaking first love relationship that wrecked his first year at the university.

So as a result, he shifted his studies to history, scraped by as he struggled with putting actual effort in his studies, and finally finished college disillusioned with no purpose or direction.

Being a writer isn’t easy.

He always knew he wanted to be a writer, but in a comfortable middle-class upbringing, he was sure that it would eventually just happen. “I just assumed I’d wander out into the world and be discovered as a brilliant novelist.”

So with that in mind, he moved to London, planning to become a writer immediately get published with the snap of his fingers, and then travel the world with his royalty checks.

But that didn’t happen. London made sure of that. Everyone wanted to be a writer there, and no one encouraged you to write since it was so common.  Morgan had wanted to do two things, to travel and to become a writer, and the latter clearly wasn’t happening.

Fortunately, becoming an ESL teacher is quite easy in comparison.

So he signed up for a 4 week intensive CELTA course in Istanbul to become an ESL teacher, and then easily got a job teaching and being paid at a local salary that was higher than a hospital doctor.

istanbul-celta-courses-400x260

And he ended up staying in the English Language Teaching (ELT) field for 14 years, the field that he fell into to make a living while traveling. He started as a novice, read the literature, joined professional associations, signed up for further training, and before he knew it he became a director of studies, a seasoned ELT pro, and finally a teacher trainer.

As he taught English, he continued writing, as much as he could. Short stories, articles, a screenplay that no one took seriously, a bad first novel, letters to editorial staff, and so on.

Until the day came when he got Altered Carbon published.

And then, in 8 months, Hollywood bought it and he gave up his day job.

Just like that.

The Hollywood figure who came to him? Joel Silver, who produced the Matrix.

Warner Brothers wrote him a seven-figure check to buy film rights for the book.

And then Richard Morgan waited and waited, for seven years every 18 months they paid him more. It eventually fell out of option, and then Laeta Kalogridis snatched it up. After another film option fell through, Netflix stepped up and took it on as a series.

The rest is history.

Between publishing his first book Altered Carbon in 2001 and the series being released on Netflix in 2018, however, Richard kept busy. He finished the 2nd and 3rd book in the series, and then continued writing full time.

Then he wrote two 6-issue miniseries for Marvel about Black Widow.

rkm black widow.jpg

His screenplay became a novel (Market Forces), and was optioned as a film and won the John Campbell memorial award.

Another novel of his, Black man, won the Arthur C Clark award.

And then he wrote a fantasy trilogy between 2008 and 2014.

Finally, alongside all this work, he had the great opportunity of being brought on board as main writer for both the 2008 cyberpunk video game Syndicate, and for Crytek’s 2011 video game Crysis 2.

What an incredible career, right? And it’s not even close to being finished!

Morgan is now 52 years old, with a wife and a young son. He moved back to the town that he grew up in. He was in his mid-30s when Altered Carbon got published.

When he was asked what was one writing tip he would recommend, he said the following:

“Have your protagonist do something unacceptable early on. You need to step away from him, so he’s not an insert or a wank fantasy. You can take the hero ride, but you’ve got to distance yourself. This is not me, this is not you, this is a man you might enjoy being in some ways, but there’s always a price to be paid. He’s morally compromised, I guess.”

RKM chillin.jpg

Sources:

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/gaming/interview-richard-morgan-on-rebooting-syndicate-7581320.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_K._Morgan

About the Author

 

Neuromancer (1984): A Review

If ever a book could be considered the father of Cyberpunk, Neuromancer would be it. Written in 1984 by William Gibson, Neuromancer tells the story of a punk hacker called Case who is down on his luck until a mysterious client gives him one last shot at redemption to complete a heist with a rag-tag team against an unknown wealthy entity.

This book has a couple different settings with a couple different main characters. The two main characters are Henry Dorsett Case and Molly Millions, an augmented mercenary. Case is a ‘console cowboy’ who used to be good at hacking the virtual reality dataspace called “the Matrix” until he was infected with a toxin that left him unable to access the Matrix ever again. That is, until a persuasive benefactor offers to cure him in return for one last job, which of course he is unable to turn down. The benefactor, someone name Armitage, hires him along with Molly and a couple others to complete a series of hacking and heist jobs.

Molly and Case

This story takes place in a couple of different settings. The first is in Chiba City, Japan, in the underbelly of this dystopian world. The second is in Istanbul, Turkey. The third is in a cylindrical wealthy space habitat called Freeside.

If this all sounds pretty confusing, that’s because it is. The plot and the settings are highly confusing, as are all the character’s backstory. And Gibson makes sure to throw the reader into all of this without explaining any of it.

One of the things I loved about this book was in Gibson’s ability to describe these fantastical places, as well as his penchant for incredible gritty punk dialogue. He shines most in the Chiba City settings, so much so that it actually added to my already dying wish to visit Japan by adding Chiba City to the list. His description of the luxurious city of Freeside was also incredible, especially considering when the book was written.

The problem with Gibson’s writing, though, is that he really needed to take some more time to explain what in the blazes is going on.

It was so bad at times that I had to consult Wikipedia and different sources online to figure out what was happening in the story, where they were, what they were doing, and why it was important. In order for a book to be truly great, it should be able to stand on its own, and not confuse its reader such that they need external sources to explain what is happening.

I think I may be in the minority here in being underwhelmed by the book, even though by the end I did thoroughly enjoy it. It simply wasn’t what I was expecting. I wish the plot were a little less complicated, or explained a bit more, and I would have also liked to see a more driving plotline. Although there is a sense of urgency as Case is on a pressing timeline for finishing the job in time, the sense of urgency is diminished a bit by the confusion of the whole story.

Nonetheless, it was a great read, and the contributions the book made to the cyberpunk community can’t be stressed enough. I think if you take the book Neuromancer and combine it with the 1982 movie blade runner, you would have the seeds of all the main cyberpunk genre. While Phillip K Dick did have a lot of ideas and contributed to the genre, it didn’t exist before these two, and then when Snowcrash came along it was considered post-cyberpunk I believe. Gibson created the idea of the Matrix 15 years before the seminal 1999 movie came out, and I suspect it had a big influence on that movie. I am grateful to all that came after Neuromancer, but upon taking the book by itself at face value, there is a lot that could be improved.

Overall, I would give the book 7.5 out of 10.

P.S. The first line of the book is considered by some to be a work of art, so I figured I’d include it below so you get a small taste of Gibson’s incredible writing style.

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

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?