Like William Gibson
June 20, 2004 10:26 AM   Subscribe

i'm reading gibson's pattern recognition. i'd like something the same, but better. more inside.

comparing pattern recognition with cryptonomicon, i find gibson's comments on culture and technology more perceptive, and his writing rather less clunky. but i'd like to go further still. gibson finds it necessary to explain "steganography" (stephenson felt the same about "256" - in snow crash, iirc - so again gibson is at least an improvement), which bugs me. he also seems to be heading towards a thriller/action plot line - i'm more interested in how people live in the modern world, not how they beat the bad guys.

so i'm looking for something that's well written (good characters, a properly planned plot - no indestructible superhero central characters that suddenly become mortal after 300 pages, hint hint - and convincing dialogue, for example), along with an interest in modern culture and technology, but from an author that doesn't feel the need for fight sequences or those conversations in which one character carefully explains to another what the preceding long word meant.

posted by andrew cooke to Media & Arts (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Have you read Beggars in Spain? There're dramatic elements. I mean I don't know how you do a book without some kind of conflict, but I seem to recall it had some interesting takes on where modern tech and culture might be heading.
posted by willnot at 11:15 AM on June 20, 2004

Actually - after reading some of the amazon reviews, Kress may be dumbing down the science more than you say you're looking for.
posted by willnot at 11:20 AM on June 20, 2004

Response by poster: i don't mind conflict, i'd just like it a bit less cartoon-like. i admit that i've been asking myself what i do want and it's not easy to pin down. i'm not really looking for stuff that deals with the future, but rather the present. i like, for example, that the heroine in pr notices something odd because her browser address bar menu has been messed with. that kind of detail is nice. and the "knowing" treatment of advertising.

i'm not sure it's science fiction i'm looking for. i like pynchon and de lillo for example. in fact de lillo's white noise is a pretty good fit for the kind of thing i mean (iirc) and that doesn't have much science at all. gravity's rainbow was good with the science - no condescension there. i guess i'm not helping...

anyway, thanks for the suggestion, i'll check it out.
posted by andrew cooke at 11:47 AM on June 20, 2004

Maybe Richard Powers' Galatea 2.2 or The Gold Bug Variations.
posted by sad_otter at 12:37 PM on June 20, 2004

This NYT article may be of some interest.
posted by taz at 12:41 PM on June 20, 2004

gibson finds it necessary to explain "steganography" ...which bugs me

what about those poor souls who don't live chained to computers?
don't they have the right to follow a novel's narration, too?
posted by matteo at 12:50 PM on June 20, 2004

Pattern Recognition owes a huge debt to Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49, but you've probably already read that.

Ever read any Umberto Eco? I think the book you're looking for is Foucault's Pendulum. The technology is dated (there are 5.25-inch floppy disks, e.g.), but the thoughts that underlie the depiction of the technology are still relevant.
posted by Prospero at 12:58 PM on June 20, 2004 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: thanks for all the suggestions! i haven't read lot 49, so will, and radiant cool has moved up my "to read" list. i must admit to hating foucault's pendulum, although i agree that i shouldn't have. richard powers looks interesting too.

on the steganography thing - i'm assuming i, too, may need to go look things up at times. when i read tolstoy i don't find people saying "what do you know about russian subsistence farming and the feudal system? really? well let me explain....".
posted by andrew cooke at 1:15 PM on June 20, 2004 [1 favorite]

It's terribly difficult to recommend books, however, I would suggest True Names and Other Dangers by Vernor Vinge, a novella which is available in this collection. I'm not sure that it's what you're looking for, but I think it falls nicely in place with the other selections that you have read and those that have been suggested.

Also, have you read Gibson's other novels, or just Pattern Recognition? I've found that he's become much less interesting in his recent books. I think his explanatory tangents are a byproduct of his earlier works where he was describing technologies which did not yet exist, and now they just seem sort of condescending.
posted by mmcg at 2:16 PM on June 20, 2004 [1 favorite]

The first chapter or so of Neuromancer was beautiful to me, almost lyrical. While I enjoyed the book the rest of it didn't live up to those first words. One or two of his other books reach that beauty in parts but it's intermittent. As for why he explains steganography and other things remember that Gibson himself is almost a luddite. The explanation is probably what was needed for him to understand it.
posted by substrate at 3:56 PM on June 20, 2004

andrew cooke, this is possibly a really obvious suggestion, but have you read any of Bruce Sterlings recent books? Both "The Zenith Angle" and "Zeitgeist" would come close to what you describe.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 4:04 PM on June 20, 2004

Like many who've responded, I hate to say these are better, but they're good reads.
Sewer, Gas and Electric
Altered Carbon
posted by tetsuo at 4:29 PM on June 20, 2004

A few authors you might enjoy, mostly because they fall into the "smart authors for smart readers" category, not because they're necesarily sci-fi or even technology based.

- Stephen Millhauser writes some fantasy stuff and some sci-fi and some more mainstream books. His latest set of stories The King in the Tree is good, but some of his older books like Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer is just amazing
- both Angela Carter and Connie Willis can turn a sentence inside out. Willis has some interesting tech with good characters and real dialogue and messy endings. Her new book Passage falls more along genre fiction but deals with some pretty interesting science and pseudo-science concerning near death experiences. Carter is more sublime, a bit more abstract and has more range. The Incredible Desire machine of Dr. Hoffman and Night at the Circus are my favorites but she writes good non-fiction as well. She's like Nora Dunn with a bit more literary elan.
- Gold Bug Variations by Richard Powers is really not to be missed
- Allen Kurzweil's two books A Case of Curiosities and The Grand Complication are smart mysteries filled with old tech [not unlike some of Willis's stuff but he's insane for research and you learn even more when you read his books] and weird old machines.
posted by jessamyn at 4:32 PM on June 20, 2004 [1 favorite]

A second, er.. third actually, for the books of Richard Power. Plowing the Dark, though, is the one that sounds most like it's up your alley.

Or, if you're open to plays, Michael Frayn's very readable Copenhagen does deal drectly with the philosophical relations of technology to life, though it's not exactly new technology...
posted by .kobayashi. at 5:04 PM on June 20, 2004

I'd suggest anything by Robert Charles Wilson - not heavy on the tech but a great scifi writer nonetheless. He does seem to run out of steam on his endings. Darwinia and Blilnd Lake were both good.
posted by gottabefunky at 8:13 PM on June 20, 2004

That would be Blind Lake.
posted by gottabefunky at 8:13 PM on June 20, 2004

Great play, Copenhagen. I don't know enjoyable it would be to read it, though. (As far as SF, you can't get any less dumbed-down than Egan.)
posted by Tlogmer at 8:16 PM on June 20, 2004

I'll second Sterling -- he's one of my favorite authors. Mind you, he does take the time to explain things, but usually he approaches such things from a different angle than you'd expect, or just implies what it means via context.
posted by neckro23 at 9:49 PM on June 20, 2004

Iain Banks has a bunch of sci-fi books that are loosely related (dealing with the Culture) and I would recommend Player of Games as a good introduction. You might also like Zelazny's Lord of Light, altho this dealt more with philosophy than science. How about Dan Simmons' Hyperion? I think it's a fantastic book.

I just finished Vernon God Little, by D.B.C. Pierre (it one the Booker prize). It's about a teenager who's accused of helping his best friend massacre 16 high school students. It's a very sad, though very funny read. It doesn't get more modern than this, but it isn't science fiction.

Maybe some Sheri S. Tepper?

Stephen King's Dark Tower series? (don't knock it until you read it!)

Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars series was good, with Red Mars being the best (and the first in the series) in my opinion. It dealt in some hard science as well as some interesting social problems and ideologies. A little too dry, perhaps.

Stephenson's Quicksilver I thought was fantastic, dealing as it did with history, politics, invention and so on. Neal Stephenson has a unique narrative voice that seems to make everything exiciting. I really enjoyed The Diamond Age as well, for much the same reason.

Lastly, about ten years ago Spectra had a sci-fi division called Spectra Special Editions that specialized in speculative fiction. I read about ten different books and enjoyed them all. Some dealt in hard science, others in fantasy, magical realism, etc. I believe the line has been called off but I'm sure you can still find many of the books.
posted by ashbury at 9:49 PM on June 20, 2004

There's something about the temperment of Haruki Murakami's books that remind me of William Gibson. I'd recommend The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle as a good starting point.

It seems, from this post that William Gibson is enjoying Murakami's books.
posted by bragadocchio at 11:02 PM on June 20, 2004

Of all Neal Stephenson's books, the one I find myself reading again and again is Zodiac. Plotwise, it just zips along, and it's got a real asshole for a narrator, which is quite fun. It's also got a lot of authentic Boston detail in it. If you haven't read it, I do recommend it, even if you're bugged by his later work. His Interface (written with his uncle under the name Stephen Bury) is also enjoyable. Neither book has particularly high aspirations, which I think makes them more able to succeed.
posted by kindall at 1:19 AM on June 21, 2004

Response by poster: wow. just got in to work (ahem). thanks again (incidentally, the wind up bird chronicle was an example i thought of too - i should read more by him).

pondering last night, i think i was unfair on gibson. really the explanation in the text is no more than would be needed given the characters involved (the heroine wouldn't have known what steganography was). so perhaps i was simply asking for books where the main character was someone a bit more like me...

anyway, thanks again. i'm off to the uk next week (yikes, no, in two days time) and will do some book shopping there. :o)
posted by andrew cooke at 6:07 AM on June 21, 2004

I am a big fan of Bruce Sterling (going all the way back to Involution Ocean), but I have to admit, he's kind of cack-handed when it comes to dialog. Zeitgeist was an especially bad case, with a lot of interesting ideas about the world today, but completely improbable dialog, with small children talking like pomo lit scholars.

A lot of good suggestions so far. I'll add Greg Bear as someone with interesting ideas about technology (esp Queen of Angels & Slant).
posted by adamrice at 7:21 AM on June 21, 2004

Don Delillo hasn't been mentioned, so I'll suggest him. The Names is my favorite but Mao II, Underworld, and Cosmopolis are the books probably most similar to Pattern Recognition. Libra's a good Kennedy assassination novel and Ratner's Star is Delillo at his most science-fictiony.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:34 AM on June 21, 2004

Zeitgeist was an especially bad case, with a lot of interesting ideas about the world today, but completely improbable dialog, with small children talking like pomo lit scholars.

For me, Sterling's utterly implausible dialog is one of the things that makes his books so fun.
posted by kindall at 9:02 AM on June 21, 2004

You might like Alex Shakar's The Savage Girl - read the Amazon recommendations anyway.
posted by nicwolff at 10:49 AM on June 21, 2004

Response by poster: just back from holiday, so as i wait for 3443 emails to download i thought i'd follow up on this.
i went shopping at borders in york and bought power's plowing the dark, murakami's dance, dance, dance and pynchon's lot 49.
power's book was an almost perfect match - it's based around the development of a commercial vr environment demo about (i guess) 5 years back. good writing (slightly odd, abrupt, style - nothing like pynchon, say, but it reads just fine), good technology (not condescending, only one small error i noticed), decent characters. the only drawback was a slightly contrived move near the end (i'd like to read another book by him - he's not messing around anything like as much as murakami, say, so it's unclear to what extent that kind of blurring of reality is something one might expect from his work).
murakami's book was good, solid fun - excellent holiday reading.
pynchon's book made the flight back bearable and - as someone implies above - shows gibson a thing or two about building a network of cryptic connections. it's also rather funny.
all excellent books. thanks for pointing me to the gem of lot 49 (i think it's better for being short - i should try his collection of stories) and reminding me about murakami. more thanks still for introducing me to powers. i'd not been reading much in the way of novels before this last month - these made me wonder why. i shall continue with others above... cheers.
posted by andrew cooke at 6:41 AM on July 12, 2004

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