Monday, October 05, 2009

Off-Topic: Sci-Fi

Note: this has nothing to do with bicycling, commuting, transportation or anything like it. I really don't have anywhere else to air it. It's not that I haven't been riding -- I have, daily. My trips haven't been noteworthy for anything other than the changing weather that forces me back into that wonderful routine of dressing heavy in the morning and light in the afternoon, and the insanely beautiful, large full moon as seen last night on my ride home from the grocery store at dusk. I just couldn't get any clear photos of it. Regardless, it's all stuff I've covered many times before. With that out of the way, here I go.

I'm not a fan of Sci-Fi. Not TV shows nor movies, and certainly not novels. I have a certain distaste for fiction novels in general. Having fiction incessantly forced down my gullet in school sealed the deal. "How utterly pointless," I'd ponder to myself: "this stuff has nothing real to offer. It's imaginary. It's trite and impractical." You'd find me poring over manuals to DOS or BASIC, poking through the Haynes repair guide that we got with our 1981 Accord, or with my nose stuck in one of several invention compendiums such as the original "The Way Things Work." Even in college, I opted to go for Technical Writing instead of the co-requisite of Intro. To Fiction. I was fine with that. I enjoy technical writing: the ability to create concise instructions in simple English.

Sure, I liked the Star Wars Trilogy - the originals. Phantom Menace and friends did little for me. I grew up watching old-school Star Trek:TOS and Buck Rogers re-runs with my dad. I remember watching the debut of Star Trek:TNG, too, But I never got sucked into any of it. I never played Light Saber with my flashlights, never imagined myself beamed to the surface of a mysterious planet or anything like that. My nerd friends would obsess over their comic books, anime flicks, and video games. All of them were tantamount to fiction to me.

C.J. Cherryh's Tripoint captivated me during a hot weekend camping trip in 1995. I devoured it in under 2 days -- likely fueled by the fact that it was a distraction from the heat. The summer after 7th grade was spent somewhat obsessed with Choose Your Own Adventure pulp. I have no excuse for that, other than the poor judgment that comes with being a stupid teenager. Otherwise, works of fiction have inspired me very little.

Every once in a while, I try again. I own the entire Chronicles of Narnia and several Tolkein books. I could never get through the first few chapters of any of them -- I can honestly say I don't understand how people get tied up in them or modern attempts at thematic parallels minus any shred of Christianity: things like the Golden Compass and Harry Potter. I tried a few books that my mother recommended, by Orson Scott Card (Ender's Game, chiefly). No dice. Some time ago, I gave Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon a go since it's supposedly his masterpiece. I love his writing style, but I couldn't stand the erratic story line or the book's arduous thousand-long page count. I was done by the time I hit chapter nine.

Last weekend, I gave Neal Stephenson another whirl. I was at Border's picking up some periodicals and saw Snow Crash sitting there on the shelf. It's a nerd cult classic. All of my geeky friends read it nearly two decades ago. I'd never touched it before. Curious, I picked it up and read the first page.

Let me say this: No tech reference, magazine, biography or industry whitepaper has ever compelled me the way that the first page of Snow Crash did. It called me to fork over the cash to make it my own. Had it gone any other way, I'd probably have set it back on the shelf then made a note to reserve it at the library. I'm 23 chapters deep, and I just broke out the lame "headwind" excuse this evening to take the bus so I can read more.

At any rate, if you haven't read Snow Crash yet, and you're a technophyle, I'd say you owe it to yourself to at least skim it a little. It still skips around, but not nearly as brutally as Cryptonomicon. It's also about half as thick, more interesting (to me) and dare I say almost prophetic about some things. Did Stephenson predict this stuff, or did he inspire it?!


TG said...

I agree that either Snow Crash or The Diamond Age is Stephenson's best work. Cryptonomicon just wasn't there for me, either. I'm the same way with Sterling/Gibson - The Difference Engine was horrible, I thought. Other works by each are much better. Holy Fire and Neuromancer, in particular.

If you're anything like me, trying to read Tolkien is hit and miss - I've tried reading The Hobbit probably a dozen times, and only managed to get through it once or twice. Granted, I enjoyed when I was able to... But it wasn't comprehensible enough to engage me any other time.

That said, I do enjoy some of the harder-to-read authors, too. Pat Cadigan and Richard Calder, for example. Then again, I also liked Ender's Game and the Shadow books from the Ender series - the two sequels just aren't up to par. I'm all for good SciFi/Fantasy, but sometimes it is hard to find the gems amongst everythign available.

Eric said...

Right on man. Fiction is the thing that killed high school for me too. I was always face down in an atlas or cycling catalog or something tangible.

Joshua said...

Snow Crash is amazing. I couldn't get more than a few pages into Cryptonomicon before being bored, but Snow Crash only took me a few days.

I definitely need to read it again.

eva said...

and dare I say almost prophetic about some things. Did Stephenson predict this stuff, or did he inspire it?!

actually this is a major topic in some circles of literary studies: did early sci-fi geeks and writers of early cyberpunk essentially guide the development of the computer science field? I think we can say yes.

try also: william gibson (neuromancer), philip k. dick (do androids dream of electric sheep? and/or blade runner).

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