Foreshadows: The Ghosts of Zero

July 1, 2012

Book Review By: Mr. Roboto

Year: 2012

Author: The Very Us Artists

Category: Cyberpunk Books, Cyberpunk Music

Website: Foreshadows.net

Foreshadows: The Ghosts of Zero

Story/Track Listing:
  • Forward by C.S. Friedman (No audio track)
  • The Ghosts of Zero by “The Digital Alchemist” (No audio track)
  • 1. Geist Anthropic 1:4
  • 2. Too Much Is Never Enough
  • 3. Cenotaph, or We’ve Been Reduced To Lo-Fi
  • 4. Graveduggery
  • 5. Love Simulacra
  • 6. Cold As The Gun
  • 7. …And Weave The Spider’s Web
  • 8. Geist Threnodic 2:4
  • 9. Best Served Flash-Frozen
  • 10. Geist Eidetic 3:4
  • 11. All The Good Things You Are
  • 12. Twenty-One-Oh
  • 13. Made In Brazil | Living In Japan
  • 14. Crossed Swords
  • 15. Geist Intrinsic 4:4
  • 16. Anodyne Fading: The Wolf Without
  • 17. Lament
  • 18. Deep In The Deep: Reaction-Diffusion Dies Tonight
  • 19. Unto The Interface

  • Overview: Cyberpunk continues to inspire writers and readers some 35 years after William Gibson wrote his first short story. Now a new group of writers, artists, and musicians have come together as the Very Us Artists to create the latest cyber-anthology complete with its own soundtrack. It’s not so much a book and CD, but a multimedia package. But does it work as a whole, or should certain parts be omitted?

     

    The (Back) Story: The prologue (The Ghosts of Zero) gives us the basic back story of the rest of the book:

    Corporations became bigger than “too big to fail;” they became governments and nations unto themselves and the established powers were unable to stop them, especially when the corporations began absorbing military forces or creating their own as “security.” That’s when the Multinationals Wars(TM) started as the corporations screwed the law over and courts became battlefields. World economies virtually died out as currency was replaced by World Bank Currency, a.k.a. WBC, the W, or simply “dub.”

    Technology advanced as the corps wanted the best weapons for “hostile takeovers.” Robots and nanotechnology soon appeared, but without Skynet or SHODAN (which was good news or bad news depending on how you wanted to see it). The Internet slowly died out as privacy and freedom was overrun by surveillance and censorship, but was replaced by Worldnet, though nobody knows how it came to be.

     

    The (Front) Stories: At first, this anthology may seem like 19 separate stories set against the backdrop of the above scenario. But once you start reading the eighth story, you suddenly realize that there are more common threads running through the book than just the back story. In particular, the four “Geist” stories about a former pyra-play addict who risks everything to hunt down a creature called the “Geist” (as in zeitgeist, the spirit of the times). The Geist attacks systems like a mosquito feeding on blood, but in doing so causes major disruptions. The other stories gives background on the technologies, people, events, and the Geist itself.

    Not all the stories as connected. Some are simply stand-alone, side stories. Even so, they further enhance the dystopic scene of the (post)Multinational Wars(TM) as couriers, Stomp Brawl (a future MMA) fighters, librarians, and even children fight for personal and human survival in dark and dangerous times. My personal favorite is the librarians who are trying to save the data from an ice-based computer that’s shutdown and melting.

     

    The Soundtrack: Have you ever tried reading a book while music was playing in the background? Sometimes it helps to read with music from a radio, CD, iPod, or pirated MP3s playing as a “soundtrack” for your book. If only all books had its own soundtrack…

    Foreshadows does.

    A CD with the book (or MP3s with the ebook) has 19 tracks that correspond with all the stories (except the prologue) ranging from ambient synth-instrumentals to outright rock songs. I listened to the disk after reading the book and the tunes brought back some memories of the stories. It would have been better if I was listening while reading to get the full effect. But with or without the book, they still make good ear-candy.

    An example of the music from the Foreshadows CD: Bilian’s “Love Simulacra”

     

    Conclusion: The Very Us Artists have made their case for the next generation of cyberpunk, and it’s a pretty bold statement. A broad collaboration that shows what multimedia should have been in the 90s. Even now there’s word of more than could be published in a book. Webshadows continues where the book leaves off.

    Some might balk at the $36 US price tag for the book/disk combo, but given the amount of work that went into this project, the whole being more than just the parts, and current prices of books and CDs, the price is well worth it.

     

    Update: Just got word from John LaSala, one of the masterminds behind the Foreshadows project, that he is willing to cut 10% of the price for the physical package. Just go to their website, purchase, and when asked for a coupon tell them ROBOTO10 sent you.

    Street: Clairvoyance

    November 22, 2010

    Book Review By: Mr. Roboto

    Author: Ryan A. Span

    Year: 2010

    Category: Cyberpunk Books

    Website: Street of Eyes

    Clairvoyance cover


    First of, an apology. I had received Ryan’s second Street of Eyes novel back in May. That time period was rather confused with a lay-off, some temporary work, unemployment, then being called back to work, and a reading and review got lost in the shuffle. There’s only one way to describe how I feel for letting this go for so long…

    DERP

    Fortunately, I did manage to cram the entire book into my eyeballs this weekend. I can say that the second Street novel ain’t no huurrr-duuurrr hurpa-derp. What it is is a worthy successor to Empathy that picks up where it left off: With Gina recovering on a Ukraine fishing trawler after her fall from an airship in a lifeboat. She gets to know the ship’s captain, his wife, and the fishing village where the couple live. But her telepathic powers are still in effect, and they have her hopping into the heads/bodies of Rat and Bomber. Soon, Gina wants to leave the simple fishing life and try to find Bomber, fearing Gabriel may have killed him.

    Meanwhile, Bomber (now going by Simon Caine) is recovering from jumping out of that same airship. He begins looking for Gina and Gabriel, but needs help from hackers Jock and Rat. Rat is given a unique opportunity: She is invited to be a ranked hacker by working for the lead hacker himself, the King of Laputa. Only she meets another woman who used to be the leader until outed by the current king and is now planning a revolt against what she sees as a “boy’s club” (the Fifteen leaders of the hacker nations).

     

    Past Prologue. For Clairvoyance, we get to learn more about some of the character back-stories. Gina used to be Emily Vaughn, the daughter of a well-to-do family who resented her father’s social climbing by “being a lap dog for the Federation.” Bomber was a US Marine who underwent ID changes as needed. And Gabriel was a survivor of a nuclear attack because of a secret nanotech program. This gives our characters the background that explains their current actions, and a little foreshadowing as those pasts return to haunt them in various ways.

     

    Don’t derp out on volume two. Already, Ryan is working on the third and final Street volume (aka Precognition) on his site. If Clairvoyance is any indication, Precognition should be the magnum opus for the Street series. In the meantime, better get Clairvoyance (and Empathy if you don’t have it yet) to prepare for the grand finale.

    This post has been filed under Cyberpunk Books by Mr. Roboto.

    The Surrogates

    September 23, 2009

    Review By: Mr. Roboto

    Authors: Robert Venditti & Brett Weldele (illustrator)

    Year: 2006, 2009

    Category: Cyberpunk Books; Graphic Novels

    NOTE: This review will cover both graphic novels The Surrogates and The Surrogates: Flesh and Bone.

    Surrogates cover 1

    “Live”

    Coming to a big screen near you. With the Surrogates movies opening this Friday (Sept. 25), I’d thought we should check out the book that it is based on. Originally a five issue comic, The Surrogates shows life in 2054 Georgia (US) as a police detective searches for a person who is destroying “surrogates,” robotic avatars that people use to interact with the real world from the safety of their homes. There is also a prequel, The Surrogates: Flesh and Bone. The two books are combined into the The Surrogates: Owner’s Manual.

     

    Synopsis: Lieutenant Harvey Greer investigates the destruction of two surrogates that is first attributed to a “flash storm.” A data-recording unit on one of them shows that they were actually destroyed by an electrical discharge from someone or something that would be called the “steeplejack.” Greer suspects that the steeplejack may be working for a religious cult called The Church of The Prophet, aka the “Dreads,” who are known to have a history against surrogates.

    As Greer delves deeper into the mystery, his own surrogate is destroyed by the steeplejack, who plans to disable or destroy all the surrogates. Instead of replacing it, he decides to continue without it, and does find who is behind the steeplejack and the anti-surrogate plot.

    In the prequel, Flesh and Bone, a homeless black boy is beaten and killed by rich white kids using their parent’s surrogates. This causes the Dreads’ anti-surrogate movement to swell, leading to a riot when the most reliable witness to the beatings is killed before them. After some negotiations, the Dreads are allowed to leave the city and setup a “nation” where they can govern themselves. In this book, Greer is a patrolman waiting to hear back about his detective test.

     

    Back Stories. In between the chapters of ink-on-single color pages come some ephemera that sets a bit of background: A research paper on the benefits of surrogates, a questionnaire, news clippings, and even “pamphlets” from Virtual Self, Inc. (Life… Only Better) and The Church of The Prophet (The Dreads). These add to the story by filling in some back details about how and why the surrogates became so popular and despised. In particular, a news transcript about Zaire Powell III proves quite revealing on how he murdered his baby sister and then set fire to his home killing everyone else. After his release he founded the Dreads movement.

     

    But is it cyberpunk? If you need to ask, you must not be paying attention. I can say with confidence that *YES*, The Surrogates series IS cyberpunk. If the beating at the beginning of Flesh and Bone didn’t beat that point home, consider this: Greer’s wife commits suicide when her surrogate is disabled.

    But, there are still some questions left; Will the movie follow the novel(s)? Probably not exactly, but Blade Runner didn’t follow Phillip K. Dick’s novel exactly either. Will the movie be any good? I’ll let you know this weekend…

    This post has been filed under Cyberpunk Books, Graphic Novels by Mr. Roboto.

    Little Brother

    November 24, 2008

    Review By: Mr. Roboto

    Author: Cory Doctorow

    Year: 2008

    Category: Cyberpunk Books

    Available for download or read it online.

    Little Brother


    Among the latest in CP. In my last book review (The Shockwave Rider), I covered what is undoubtedly THEE prototype cyberpunk work. Now I give you a recent work from one of Boing Boing’s co-editors, Cory Doctorow, as he tells the story of a tech-savvy teen’s battle with Big Brother in a post 9/11 America. Though targeted to a younger audience, old farts out there should give it read as well.

     

    Synopsis. The story is told through the eyes of Marcus Yallow, aka “w1n5t0n,” a San Francisco gamer who ditches school with his friends to participate in an alternate reality game. Things go bad as a terrorist attack mobilizes the DHS, who kidnap Marcus and company and threaten to “make them disappear” if they tell anyone about their captivity and torture. When an injured friend isn’t released, Marcus wages a personal war against the DHS, who have turned the Bay Area into a police state, by using the various technologies available such as Linux for the Xbox and trusted networking.

     

    A Call To Action. A brief essay from Doctorow about his book shows that Little Brother isn’t just a novel written for entertainment; There’s a definite purpose for the book’s existence:

    How do kids figure out which search-engine results to trust? What happens to their Facebook disclosures? How can they tell whether a camera, ID check, or rule is making them safer or less safe? In the absence of the right critical literacy tools, they’ll never know how to read a Wikipedia article so that they can tell if it’s credible. They’ll never know how to keep from ruining their adulthood with the videos they post as a teenager, and they’ll never know when the government is making them safer or less safe.

    The difference between freedom and totalitarianism comes down to this: do our machines serve us, or control us? We live in the technological age that puts all other technological ages to shame. We are literally covered in technology, it rides in our pockets, pressed to our skin, in our ears, sometimes even implanted in our bodies. If these devices treat us as masters, then there is no limit to what we can achieve. But if they treat us as suspects, then we are doomed, for the jailers have us in a grip that is tighter than any authoritarian fantasy of the Inquisition.

    The book was intended to get the youngsters to thinking about their security and privacy in a tech-saturated world of paranoia, and to have them and their parental/guardian/mentor units discuss the point of how to better secure liberty and freedom on this prison planet.

    Little Brother-UK Cover

    For those in the UK, Cory Doctorow will be @ Forbidden Planet London on November 29, 2008 to sign copies of the UK version of the book. Click the pic above for details.

     

    Conclusion. If you or someone you know is old enough to use technology, or needs to know about the consequences of its usage, this book is a necessary read. With the holidays coming up, this book would be an excellent gift for the hacker, gamer, or net surfer in your tribe. It just might open your eyes to the eyes of Big Brother.

    This post has been filed under Cyberpunk Books by Mr. Roboto.

    Street: Empathy

    March 27, 2008

    Book Review By: Mr. Roboto

    Author: Ryan A. Span

    Year: 2008

    Category: Cyberpunk Books

    Website: Street of Eyes

    Street:  Empathy

     

    Reports of cyberpunk’s death in literature are premature. Even now, there are writers who have been inspired to write their vision of a techno-dystopic near future, like Mr. Ryan Span (aka “Winter”). His Street Of Eyes website has the serialized version of this soon-to-be released book, and a second book in progress waiting to appear on the site.

    Much of what you would expect in cyberpunk literature is here: Hackers, cybernetic soldiers, polluted planet, grim future… along with a couple of (relatively) new elements like telepathy and nanotechnology thrown into the mix. To say Empathy doesn’t bring much new to the table may not be far from the truth, but that doesn’t seem to be the point of the novel. Many have been inspired by the works of Gibson, Sterling, and company, but don’t have the talent… or balls… to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard these days) and write such works. Ryan Span seems to have the balls to do so, and the talent to make a pretty good story out of it.

     

    The cast of characters. Here now is a brief review of the upcoming dead-tree edition, only with a focus on the main characters to limit spoiling the storyline:

  • Gina: She works the Street of Eyes as a “telepath-for-hire.” To activate her power, though, she uses a drug called “Spice.” The Spice gives Gina the ability to get into people’s heads, but she needs to be careful about the head she connects to; Users of Spice have been known to go insane when they connect to psychos.
  • Bomber: He finds Gina on the Street and brings her to his boss. Before long, we find out that he is more than just some gopher for a wealthy client.
  • Gabriel: The head that Bomber’s boss wants Gina to look into. What she finds there isn’t pretty… but later she falls in love with him.
  • The Emperor: A Triad (Chinese mafia) lord that Bomber has worked with.
  • Jock and Rat: Hackers that work for the Emperor. Jock mostly coordinates operations remotely while Rat does the street work. Rat isn’t what he appears to be…
  • Street of Eyes banner

    Not quite Neuromancer, but definitely worth reading. While cyberpunk fans wait for the next Neuromancer or Blade Runner to get excited about, Street may be something to pique their interest.

    And who knows… in twenty years, somebody may write a cyberpunk novel or film a movie based on Street.

    This post has been filed under Cyberpunk Books by Mr. Roboto.