Personal Favorite Books of the Decade (2000-2009) [Hard Drive Archive]

My Post (1)

Authors Note: This post was written in late 2009. Looking back on this list, I’d change a few things, but I mostly agree with the posts. I plan on writing a new top ten list of the decade before this year is over.

Finals are finally over, for the next three weeks I’m resigning myself to a life of intellectual atrophy. No more essays, no more tests, and no more labs.

This has been a decade of upheaval with the recent US elections, Middle Eastern Wars and Financial crisis’ that has brought out a great decade for books. Since I’ve only got a fourteen day window to put this out and I haven’t seen anybody else doing this sort of thing I’ve decided to compile a list (you’re probably thinking “Christ not another one!”). A list of what I thought to be the top ten books of this decade. Enjoy and feel free to give me some feedback on what I possibly missed out over the past ten years and scoff at my poor taste.

10. Boy Toy by Barry Lyga (2007) – A Young Adult Novel written during the height of the female teacher scandals that occurred in Middle America, Boy Toy tells the story of Josh Mendel a 12-year-old seventh grader who is sexually abused by his attractive History Teacher Eve. Though the story begins during Josh’s senior year in high school, several years after Eve’s arrest, the story comes to the reader in the form of flashbacks detailing the events of his original crush on Eve leading up to her manipulation of and abuse of Josh. For a Young Adult Novel it covers a very adult issue having to do with sexual abuse and if it wasn’t for the controversy surrounding this book, I probably would’ve have neither heard of it nor picked it up. Despite the media hype (orchestrated or not) built up around this novel it covered an all too familiar issue that involved a switching of gender roles. Both risky moves on the authors part, but allowed a unique kind of story to be told here, which helped restored my faith in the YA genre, proving that it’s not just reserved for high school angst dramas and vampires.

9. Anathem by Neal Stephenson (2008) – A good example of world building in sci-fi if I’ve seen any, Anathem tells the story of the unique world (known as the planet Abre) that is ruled by a technologically advanced Theocratic-Republic world body. All forms of intellectual pursuit are considered heretical. Reading is deemed antisocial and in other parts of the world illegal and the citizenry’s only form of stimulation is watching television, surfing the net or embracing a Christian style of religion dominate on Abre. Those that are considered “antisocial” or “Heretics” are placed in small monastery-like communes around Abre, where advanced technology of all forms is forbidden and priest-like professors are allowed to practice the arts of math, the sciences and of course read. However, trouble on Abre is brewing when a giant spaceship like colony comes within Abre’s orbit and begins to disrupt the planets communications and kills a high ranking religious leader that attempts to make contact with the alien race. Enter Fra Erasmas, a young academic priest, together with a team of those assembled inside and outside the communes that are tasked with understanding and neutralizing of the threat orbiting above them. Anathem is a great globe-trotting adventure, which combines the elements of math and meta-physics throughout the story. The only major drawback is that it is a near 1000 page novel (and the main story doesn’t even begin until around 350!) making it a very slow read for some people. The book also comes with its own glossary of words since the inhabitance of Abre have their own slang and words for certain devices (a cellphone for example is instead called a Jejay). A great Stephenson novel, but not the most accessible novel and certainly not recommended for first time readers of Stephenson.

8. Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer (2001) – Another YA novel on this list was one of my favorite fantasy series during my middle school years (please don’t kill me J.K Rowling D: !). Artemis Fowl is a 12-year-old genius living in Ireland and heir to a vast criminal empire after the disappearance of his father before the events of the novel. Hoping to bolster the family fortune and gain enough wealth to begin searching for his dad Artemis devises a plan to extort gold from the inhabitants of New Heaven, the last refuge of fairy kind, hidden deep underground and away from human eyes. To do this Artemis and his dangerous bodyguard Butler capture a prominent fairy. One who is part of a special team tasked with maintaining law and order in New Heaven and help preserve the city’s secrecy from human society Captain Holly Short. After Artemis secures Holly in his Fortress like Manor it becomes a game of siege and cat and mouse as Holly’s superiors try to retrieve her and capture Artemis while Holly tries to escape Fowl Manor and overcome Artemis’ psychological mind games. The sequels (up until the third book anyway) aren’t too bad either.

7. The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006) – Considered by many critics to be the man’s best work, The Road tells a story of a Father and his son (simply named The Man and The Boy) as they traverse a post-apocalyptic world where the sun has been blotted out and all vegetation has rotted away. It’s not clear whether this world is the product of an ecological disaster or a meteor, but that quickly becomes irrelevant. All of your attention is placed in the Father armed with a revolver with only three bullets and his Son as they try to make their way to the coast in the hopes that the last bit of civilization left is there with food and shelter. This has to be one of the bleakest books I’ve ever read, the detail that McCarthy devotes to describing the landscape (“black snow over grey fog, not a single leave on a tree…”) and the fact that the two are constantly on the run from cannibals makes you wonder why these two keep going. However, at the heart of the story is one about a Father teaching his son how to survive and the Son trying to preserve what little humanity that is left in his cynical benefactor. It is a great novel and well worth the read, but it is a book that seems it was only meant to be read once.

6. Pattern Recognition by William Gibson (2003) – The father of cyberpunk made a splash with this book back in 2003 when he released this and proved to me that science fiction can be set in the world of the contemporary. Pattern Recognition is the story about Cayce Pollard a marketing consultant for Blue Ant, who has an allergic reaction to brands and logos, is tasked with finding a person that is responsible for uploading a set of bizarre promotional videos onto the internet. Her adventure takes her from London to Tokyo and ending in Moscow as the videos hold the key to not only helping her mysterious employer’s earn lots of money, but also a group of NGOs whose motives are not at all clear and in some cases not even human, but both don’t mind using Cayce as a pawn to help reach their goals.

5. Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan by Jake Adelstein (2009) – One can say that over the past few years there has been a glut in the market on documentary style books on Japan that consist mostly of poking fun at the inherent weirdness (panty vending machines and people marrying anime characters to name a few) of the country or are some self-help-spiritually-lacking-American-finds-himself-in-Japan crap that you could open a library in the genres honor. This one however, I can say is a wonderful exception. A book that has given poor gaigin like myself a glimpse into the world of crime and punishment in the city of Tokyo. In Tokyo Vice, Adelstein with an eye for detail and with a hardboiled sensibility, writes of his exploits as a reporter working for the prestigious national newspaper Yomiuri Shinbun during the 1990s as he worked with Japanese police officers and detailed their often dangerous and yet quid-pro-quo relationship with the Yakuza. It’s a story that not only covers what it’s like to be often the only Caucasian in a newsroom but also the limitations of the Japanese police department and their inability to combat the Yakuza, partially due to the consequences of the post WWII treaties made with the United States.

4. Genshiken by Kio Shimoku (2003) – A Japanese manga (or comic book) series which brought me to the attention of the anime fan Otaku sub-culture and how I got drawn into this whole mess. Genshiken tells the story of Kanji Sasahara a freshman in college as he gets drawn into the world of the Otaku (nerd) culture of video games, anime and manga. It is one of the few slice of life comedies to make it here in the States where the author knows how to bring laughter on both ends of the Pacific. Spanning eight volumes, Sasahara and his misfit friends deal with the world of fanboyism, maintaining relationships with other women, the finer points of Model Kit assembly and the odd world of erotic fan fiction (yeah…they do go there). It’s a series that may not be for everyone, but there are guaranteed laughs to be found here and has a great sitcom like vibe (and I mean that in a good way) that will make you want to jump to the next volume as soon as you’re finished with the first one.

3. Market Forces by Richard Morgan (2005) – A story of Laissez-Faire economics gone horribly wrong and set in 2049 London during a worldwide economic depression known as the “Domino Recessions.” Market Forces follows the main character Chris Faulkner who has just earned his way into a coveted position in the company of Shorn and Associates. The company specializes in a service known as Conflict Investment, where the company picks a third world country going through civil unrest chooses a side and backs them with money, weapons and logistical support in return for a cut of the nations GDP after the war is over. However, as Chris learns in this nightmarish dystopia if you want to keep your job you’ll also have to be willing to beat out your competition, even it means killing your colleagues on the way to work. What follows is a story revolving around a guerilla war in Colombia, Chris’ wife Carla who wants to get both of them out of Shorn, a female news reporter who wants more than just an interview from Chris and the Shorn executives who want to keep Chris and his impressive kill record right where he is. Market Forces is a modern day fable, showing the reader that in a world where profits and resources are the ultimate end, nobody is an angel.

2. Jennifer Government by Max Barry (2003) – When it comes to the literary world there aren’t enough Femme Fatals in publishing, Max Barry changed all of that when he released this gem of a novel taking place in a slightly more upbeat corporate-dystopia. This satire takes place in the near future where the United States through military or economic strong arming has taken over all of North and South America, South Asia, Russia, the U.K, Japan and Australia (newly acquired) and effectively making them U.S territories while economically quarantining the so called “Socialist” or “Economically Risky” nations. In this future all taxes have been abolished, the U.S government’s power has been completely stripped of its judicial and military authority leaving both to be completely privatized and everyone’s surname is that of the company they work for. Hack Nike isn’t the most competent or the most confident employee, but when his superior John Nike promises Hack a higher post, it become an offer he can’t refused. However, after signing a contract without reading it, Hack becomes an unwitting volunteer to commit murder in order to increase the street cred of Nike’s latest shoe line. Things only get worse of Hack as he then incurs the wrath of the notorious Jennifer Government, known for her taste in small arms and a barcode tattoo under her right eye. In this explosive globe trotting adventure Jennifer must leave her comfy home in Melbourne in order to protect Hack from John Nike as he sends the Police and the NRA (both now for-profit mercenary groups) to kill his only witness, but for Jennifer it’s just another day on the job. At the same time two of the world’s largest corporate conglomerates, US Alliance and Team Advantage are preparing for an all war over control of the greatest cash boon imaginable: credit card holders. Jennifer Government is a slightly funnier take on the scenario of capitalism-gone-too-far compared to Market Forces and is able to keep a balance of comic relief and seriousness throughout.

1. Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan (2002) – Having this guy on this list twice should probably be against the rules, but for my money, he deserves these spots in the top three. Altered Carbon was Mr. Morgan’s first novel and showed me that William Gibson isn’t the only author who can write cyberpunk. Set during the mid-26th century, humans have mastered interstellar travel and the ability to digitize the mind. This allows personalities and a lifetimes worth of memories to be stored or copied into processing units known as “Stacks” and can be inserted or “Sleeved” into new bodies (physically or remotely using interstellar communication), effectively ending the notion of death for those that can afford it. For the UN however, the process of sleeving has turned into an effective tool in order to clamp down and maintain dominance over the growing prescience of newly taraformed colonies. For Takeshi Kovacs, a UN Envoy, bred and designed in the arts of charismatic persuasion and combat it’s he and others like him who get the call when a colony is thrown into a state revolutionary fervor. Kovacs after being discharged is killed on Harlan’s World after a run in with the local cops, but finds himself resleeved in a new handsome body on Earth and is flown to San Francisco on request by the seemingly immortal and very wealthy Laurens Bancroft who’s in need of a private investigator. Bancroft came home one night, blew his head off with a gun destroying his stack, but had a remote back-up ready with the only inconvenience being that he’s lost the past 48 hours of his memory. However, Laurens doesn’t buy the official story and it’s up to Kovacs to find out what happened during that 48 period and find the person that murdered Bancroft. From there the story takes an interesting turn as Kovacs explores the criminal underbelly of America’s West Coast for answers revealing dark secrets to Bancroft’s past, the person who once the owned the body that he’s now in possession of and running into an old comrade turned enemy. It’s a story that brings up an interesting question: in a world where the human body is just as disposable as the mind, is our existence nothing more than a commodity to be traded with? And can the mind even tell what is and isn’t reality in a world where the digital and the real flow seamlessly together? Morgan manages to bring these questions to light as we follow Kovacs through death, inner demons and eventually closure in this noir-styled sci-fi mystery. Morgan does something here in this novel that is hard to do: make familiar ground in the world of science fiction fresh again, which is why I feel Altered Carbon deserves the number one spot.

Happy Holidays and feel free to post what you thought were the best books to come out this decade.

On 9/11 [Essay]

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I find 9/11 to be an uncomfortable thing for me to talk about. I was 13 when it happened. In the 7th grade, I think. I was at school and it was around 11:30am when all the T.Vs in the classrooms were turned on. The students and teachers pretended to work while the footage of the planes going into the Twin Towers played in the background. Nearly half of my classes were like this. We couldn’t keep our eyes off of it. I want to say we got let go early, because eventually it was the only thing people were focused on.
I ended up walking home and was surprised to find my family had made it to the house before I did. I was scared because my dad said that since it was terrorists the war might last a long time and I might end up getting drafted when I turned 18. Five years seemed like a long time for a war to last and it freaked me out. I remembered my grandfather talking about shortages for everything during WW2 and I assumed it’d be like that. It was a bit overblown now that I think about it, but my mind couldn’t help but go there.
Looking back, it’s almost insane how one day separated the America I came of age in and the America that came the day after. For me the optimism of the 90s still resonated into the new Millennium prior to 9/11. NSYNC’s music video “Pop” that came out a few months before the attacks kind of encapsulates that last bit of American optimism. I’m not sure we’re ever going to get that feeling back or even want it anymore.
It’s as if we’ve been struggling between trying to regain that bit of innocence back and courting our own self destruction ever since that day happened. A part of the country seems to be impatiently waiting for the apocalypse (and in that impatience trying to take matters into their own hands to make that happen) and the other just wants to make like the past 17 years never happened. Overall (despite current circumstances) we’ve matured as a country. We know what our problems are. Solving them is harder and something major will have to be sacrificed to make that happen. I just hope it makes things better for us. I just hope it makes us a better class of people. Unlike other countries in the past, we have the luxury of knowledge in history and technology to make this happen for us. If we don’t, then we’ll have screwed ourselves over more thoroughly than the Romans. Well…I guess that’s all I wanted to say.

I Wrote An Article on Writing Process for TLDR Press! [Link]

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This article was definitely a lot of fun to write! It’s been awhile since I’ve had to really think about how I go about writing a story, so this was certainly a fun exercise. Sarah Linders, as well as TLDR Press are to thank for providing the platform for me to sound off on this particular subject (as well as encouraging me to write the article in the first place). I’ll provide the link below, but you should definitely check out their stuff since their work and published anthologies all go to several different charities around the world! Thank you for giving this a read!

Article Link

Should Writers Care What Critics Think? [Article]

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Writing fiction is tough, teaching about writing is straight-forward, but critiquing about writing is as simple as one’s willing to make it. Despite that last bit of inflammatory bait, I often do find critics to be a very important, if not a mysterious aspect of the writing ecosystem. Even though writers put a great amount of effort being readers themselves, book critics are one of the few groups of people out there who are actually willing to obsessively read anything any writer or author puts out anymore. They’re the only ones parsing and dissecting a piece of fiction or non-fiction for any biases, literary meanings, or political leanings that the author might be projecting in their paper bound tombstone of textual art. This level of attention to detail can’t be sanely justified without the person being given an opportunity to talk about what they thought about the book to somebody. Whether it’s done via one-on-one with a friend, a starred rating on Good Reads, or as a book review columnist for the New York Times is none of my business. However, as a hopeful writer and author, myself, I often contemplate the evolution of the critic and how that eye for critique is often trained at novels from the past as much as novels being produced in the present.

Maddie Crum’s “12 Classic Books That Got Horrible Reviews When The First Came Out” is a great analysis and a compelling piece of insight into how critics often get it wrong when guessing what books ought to be worthy of our time and praise. Most of the books mentioned on the list are, as of this date, firmly a part of major literary canon as well as being taught in several schools and universities across the Western World. However, there’s also the flip side to that coin as presented in John Glionna’s LA Times Article “Mark Twain: Inexcusable Racist or Man of His Time?” This article presented as a counterpoint and a piece of reinterpretation of a 19th century pro-abolitionist, and anti-slavery activist whose controversial, but ultimately acclaimed novel Huckleberry Finn is still read and presented as a piece of anti-racist literature.

I’m not here to debate the merits of the critics stated above me, but simply provide a perspective using the two examples.

These sets of critiques (or “opinions,” if you’re inclined to feel technically correct while being truthfully dismissive) often reveal a source of perceived inconsistency. That inconsistency which often –rightfully–  frustrates the particular kind of author and reader that’s looking for a definitive “yes or no” in terms of whether such a book is worthy of anyone’s time.

The truth of the matter is that critics are human; and like the writers who bring in their own baggage of personal history and experiences into account when producing their fiction, critics, too, suffer from historical biases of their own. Most critics worth their salt, come into the fold with an academic background, or at the very least a knowledgeable backlog of past novels and writers. That academic and historical background has its own baggage to unpack. Critics have no choice in the matter when having to compare a book to not only the current zeitgeist, but also history, culture, and previous books already written. It’s the only way they can measure themselves in the face of backlash and scrutiny. This analysis also applies when revisiting older pieces of work or authors decades or centuries after their books and lives have long since been recorded. Literary figures have experienced falls from grace as well as being lifted up as misunderstood paragons. Conversely, current authors experience the same level of ups and downs in the critic sphere of publishing.

These roller coaster interpretations in the literary world and the critics who run them shouldn’t be seen as a possibility, but simply an inevitability. As an author or writer, once you put something out there and the critics get a hold of it, how they interpret the work and its intentions is simply out of your hands. And much like history is in the business of interpreting and re-interpreting past events, so too will critics recast and reclassify authors and books in a different light well after the author and their original readership is long dead.

However, this shouldn’t be thought of as something at all negative. Critics can bring a newfound understanding of an author that provides context, and historical perspective not yet considered, as well as help in bringing in new fans into the fold after an authors death. It can also help in bringing exposure to a current author whose work remains obscure.

The Critic is neither good nor evil, but simply serves as a function in the literary sphere to interpret stories and give a simple “yea or nay” on whether the book is worth picking up. A single critic and its audience is a microcosm of a particular kind of reader. A fantasy critic and their audience would never give a five star review to a slice of life novel, much less be inclined to read such a thing. Nor is a feminist critic going to have anything good to say about the James Bond novels. And while we’re at it, no male-supremacist is going to like The Handmaid’s Tale, either. In the end, authors should instead view critics with a certain level of respect, but with a hefty dose of ambivalence. Easier said than done. However, when facing the possibility of any author having to face down a brigade of anonymous one star reviews on the internet, or a twitter-led hate campaign, having thick skin appears to be a must.

Austin By Night Got A Review [Link]

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Kind of late news, but it’s cool to know someone is reading! Has some definite, fair criticisms; but overall a decent review that you can read here. Once I finish my novel, I hope to get back to this series again at some point. Although, I’ve recently begun to consider possibly turning it into an audio series….

Maybe. We’ll see! Check out the first twelve chapters of AbN here, and expect another Cashier Confessions short later this week!

Sincerely,

Philip Hauser

I Was Featured in an Interview By C. Scott Frank in the Writer Series After Words [Interview]

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C Scott Frank is one of several #redditwriters that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting on twitter. Of course, he’s a writer, but Scott also does interviewing on the side with his blog series After Words. In this interview, I was asked about writing processes, listening to others, and overcoming adversities in this really cool, digital sit fire side chat! Link provided below:

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Interview Link

Nocturnal Muse Sessions [Year 1]

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My website has been alive for 12 months so here’s an amateur edited video of me destroying my own ego!

But seriously, this year has been awesome and there are A TON of people to thank for that!

March 11th, 2017. It’s a date stated purely for my own benefit, because, number one: I suck at remembering specific dates (and yes I did have to look this up); and number two: because that was the day that this website — Nocturnal Muse Sessions — launched. The Youtube channel came five days later. After that it was nothing but poetry videos, flash fiction, story excerpts (short and long form), articles, crime serials, and updates on my current novel. Obviously, there’s been plenty to post on this small web space sporting a URL too long to remember. With my current log of over 50 videos and 50 posts, these past twelve months have felt like a constant state of hyper drive. We’re in can’t stop, won’t stop territory now, baby!

And, of course, there’s more to it than just me throwing my content out there just for the hell of it! There have been plenty of people watching, reading, and sharing along the way.

First a tribute to the online denizens who made my first year stint as an aspiring writer awesome!

Joe Butler: The man behind the #redditwriters hashtag group has brought together the greatest community of talented, supportive, and amazing authors that I’ve seen on twitter. He’s proven to me that the “social” in social media is often severely under rated and found me at a time when my cynicism towards all things twitter, facebook and reddit was at an all time high. He lifted my spirits with his community and gave me a chance by publishing my short story in the first reddit writers anthology: TL;DR. The anthology is due to come out sometime this spring and I’m super excited for it!

Camden M Collins: Editor of TL;DR and the redeemer of my poor choices in sentence structure and grammar. Camden is the reason why my short story doesn’t look it was written by someone who sacrificed proper structure in exchange for originality. After years of being a graduate at university, it was exhilarating to be back in the hot seat again for written critique.

Derek A./iMorpheus: Dude, I don’t know if it was fate or just dumb luck that brought us together, but I think we better just roll with it! This guy has been incredibly kind and supportive! Not only has he had me on for an interview for his podcast That Was a Good Read, but also hosted one of my videos, and had a reading done of one of my flash fictions! Keep an eye on this guy, cuz he’s going places!

Amanda Berthot: For being the awesome voice actress who brought my flash fiction to life in audio form and talking me up on the Cogpod podcast! Also for recommending Lost Girl to me when I finally finish the second draft of my novel!

Daniel Alvarez: For his review of my crime serial and giving me a higher grade than I would’ve given myself! He also does poetry like me, except way more often and you should check him out!

#redditwriters: David Sand, Penfold, Olen Bjorgo, Alexander Hamilton, David Clark, C Scott Frank, Deston J. Munden, Lila Vasudevan, Alex Hareland, Callum Colback, Natalia Delacruz, Vaugh, Bettina Busiello, and anyone else I forgot to mention. Yes, you! Whether it was reading and critiquing my work, sharing cool content with me, sharing my cool content with someone else or just making me laugh! All of you are the reason why I stay on twitter. Don’t stop what you do and keep writing!

And last, but not least, the men and women IRL who made me feel less alone and a kindred spirit among artists!

Owen Egerton: Host of Austin’s One Page Salon and author of his latest novel, Hollow. The guy is also the screen writer for the horror film Blood Fest and is helping keep the spirit of local art and writing alive where I live! He also let me read a page from my current novel one night and it was amazing!

Seth Meeks: Author of How I got Herpes & Other Incurable Stories and master guitarist. He is the guy who asks how my book is coming along and holds my feet to the fire!

Felix Morgan: Writer of Poe-tastic short stories, co-host of Bad Spirit Animals and all around cool chick. Like Owen and Seth, she is one of the several switch board operators that connects me and the rest to the literary soul of my town.

Brandon Seifert: Writer, and creator of Witch Doctor. For being a kindred spirit in the current genre I’ve chosen (urban fantasy) and all around well traveled guy. Your tales of the west coast are inspiring!

There’s probably a thing or three that I’ve missed, and if so leave it here in the comments! To all of you here: thank you for reading, watching, and subscribing. There will be an update on my novel soon and I hope to see you then!

 

Sincerely,

 

Philip N.R Hauser

Infoquake: An Infodump of Epically Crap-tastic Cyberpunk [Hard Drive Archive].

Author’s note: I wrote this book review way back in 2012 on a website that — thankfully — no longer exists because it sucked, but a few articles (like this one) seemed worth preserving. I was pretty harsh when I wrote about this debut novel and it didn’t help that there was a small wave of reviewers that agreed with me. However, the sequels are actually really good and make up for this first novel. Definitely worth a read if you’re into cyberpunk.

Dystopia and Cyberpunk are a bit of a favorite of mine. If you looked at my favorite authors list, a good seventy percent of them have at the very least dabbled, successfully I might add, in either one of each genre. I’ll even go so far as to say that even those who can even be considered, post-cyberpunk writers, like Richard K. Morgan, have done a pretty good job of maintaining and keeping this small niche of a sci-fi sub-genre relevant. The Aughts (2000s) especially had something of a boom period in cyberpunk novels (though in terms of film and television, it’s been practically a desert), which is still continuing today. Though that’s not to say that all were really that good.

Infoquake, part of the Jump 225 trilogy, was published in 2006 and written by then, new author and former dot-com entrepreneur, David Louis Edelman. This book was certainly pimped out on most of the major sci-fi blogs at the time, like io9 and amazon.com as being the new gold standard in post-cyberpunk science fiction. So, of course, like a cocaine addict, who desperately needed his new fix, I snatched it up in the hopes that it’d give me that sweet Neuromancer high I’d been looking for. I’d been jipped however, since the hit was laced with sixty percent Splenda.

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Infoquake: awesome cover, mediocre novel.

Infoquake, which takes place 300 years after a devastating post-singularity war between man and machines, the world as we know it, has turned into a series of corporate fiefdoms vying for control. In this anarcho-capitalist future these companies also participate in the manufacturing and selling of nanotech and biological enhancement applications known as “biosoft” or “bio/logic” that is used to help people with a number of mental and physical tasks in an individual’s day-to-day. Also, not only is most of the population wired up to their eyeballs in nanotech and bio enhancements, but it’s also operating on a wireless network known as the “data sea” that can be accessed anywhere, over multiple channels, as well as other planets within the solar system.

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Yeah, I don’t see how this could end badly, either.

Now, before I even get into the main story-line, I have to personally take issue with how this nanotechnology is introduced in the novel. Firstly, after Edelman establishes that humanity almost went extinct at the hands of killer machines, why would the population even agree to wanting to go back to letting machines regulating their lives, again. Granted 300 years is a long time, but not long enough I’d imagine for people to decide that injecting themselves with tiny machines that can regulate their bodies is A-okay, now. Especially since there’s the potential for somebody to hack these devices and make them stop your heart from beating, or control your mind, or turn you into a nano-infested rage-zombie. Shit, America is less than 300 years old and we’re still arguing about whether we even need a federal government or not, after being ruled over by a very centralized England, at the time. And if that weren’t enough, none of this nanotech is being regulated at all, by any agency, with any clout whatsoever. Because Edelman seems to think, with his libertarian worldview, that the world is in no need of any government oversight. I’d like to see the survivors of a grey-goo or terminator-like future agree with him when they’re the ones hiding in abandoned subway tunnels, eating rats and avoiding harvester drones, patrolling a blackened sky.

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I’m David Louis Edelman: and I’d prefer that the Invisible Hand determine the viability of our species’ survivability.

Our hero is Natch, a handsome, ambitious, biosoft entrepreneur. A man who seems to suffer from severe bi-polar disorder since he operates on three settings: angry, really angry and manic-depressive. He’s a twenty-something future yuppie, who wanders around his spacious office condo, barking orders at his assistants Horvil and Jara, while basking in his own greatness, trying to claw his way to the top of the biosoft market. His favorite thing to complain about is how small his luxurious office condo is as he sits and sulks, as Jara tells him that his place is actually much better than most flats in the city. But, oh no, Natch will have nothing of that. “It can always be better, bigger” he states as he goes off on another speech that they need to be working harder and that Jara and Horvil aren’t trying hard enough to get their nanotech products up and running. Did I mention that this little shit’s small business is being bankrolled by his dad? Oh yes, when you first read the two discussing the matter of Natch’s business, you’ll wonder why his father didn’t just leave Natch to die on some rock in the middle of nowhere.

Though it’s funny that I mention that because that is almost what happens to Natch, as his origin story is linked to being the sole survivor of a terrible biological attack as a baby, on a lunar colony. Natch later suffers the oh so painful life of a boarding school student as most of the children pick on him for being small…or something. Anyway, according to Edelman, Natch may or may not have set some kid’s face on fire out of anger, on a camping trip, but whatever, it’s supposed to be character development, I guess.

However, that’s of the major flaws that this novel has, especially when it comes to its characters. Edelman seems to try to give Natch some tragic backstory about being a survivor of a terrorist attack and getting picked on in school, but it comes off as the author trying way too hard to get the reader to sympathize with Natch and unintentionally making him out to be more of an ungrateful asshole. Patrick Bateman and Hanibal Lector do not need backstories for us to sympathize with. They’re evil and so is Natch, and Edelman should’ve just owned up to that and ran with it. Not that it would of helped much, but it would’ve made Natch a little more interesting. Sometimes having that mystery makes a character all the more compelling, instead of unearthing every possible piece of a character’s past. That’s how Lucas ruined Darth Vader, for most Star Wars fans. The other characters, Horvil and Jara, don’t seem to be written any better. Horvil is depicted as a very likable, but docile programmer, who seems to roll over at every command that Natch gives him. While Jara tends to spend most of the novel wallowing in her own depression while having fantasies of giving Natch a rim job (I guess it’s true, that neurotics tend to gravitate towards one another, though this sounds more like Stockholm Syndrome to me). There is also the government official who is head of the Center for Wellness, who despite his dickishness, actually has some good intentions of trying to regulate the biosoft market, because of its obvious potential of being abused. But, of course, Edelman depicts this government man as a villain who wants to secretly steal everyone’s freedoms and Natch’s ability and social license to be a sociopathic asshole in the business world.

After a few stunts performed by Natch, that would’ve gotten any normal person a twenty-year jail sentence or a billion-dollar bonus as a Goldman Sachs CEO. He is called in by Margaret Surina, a sort of more cuntish (if you’ll excuse the phrase) version of Natch, to improve and launch a new product by her company, while fighting off several corporate fiefdoms that will kill for a chance to steal this new technology for themselves.

From this point on it’s an Ayn Rand, neo-liberalism, wank-fest. Full of pompous speeches by Natch and several backroom business dealings, as Edelman tries to sell the idea that the Surinas and Natch’s of the world are the real masters of the universe, while the government is some form of pure evil that eats babies on the weekends (all this, despite the fact that Natch — a free-market true believer — is clearly the real asshole of the story).

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“Hey kids! I’m here to teach you guys the coolness of EXTREME FUTURE FREE-MARKET ECONOMIES!!”

Of course this new technology has far reaching, unintended consequences and it’s use of the inter-galactic wireless network makes this new biosoft all the more dangerous to humanity if put into the wrong hands. This leads the author to tack on some lesson at the end of the novel, that technology isn’t bad, people are, but they don’t need policing (what?) speech, but by then I was pretty much just trying to get myself to the finish line and not even bothering in understanding this oddly self-contradictory logic.

Though I have to give Edelman some slack, since this was his first book, I can’t believe he dropped the ball on this one. To his credit, he did have some interesting tech ideas and concepts, as well some interesting depictions on how a post-singularity, post-geographical society might work. However, the man got too bogged down trying to make us like his hopelessly unlikable main character, didn’t bother to develop his other characters and tried to make this book his personal soap box about how his ideas on economics and zero-government are great if only somebody will listen to me rant. This book could’ve used a lot more subtly and whole lot less preachiness and exposition. I hear that the sequels to Infoquake are much better, but the first book might have just turned me off from them for good. 2006’s Neuromancer this is not.

 

Game Review: Syndicate [Hard Drive Archive]

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Author’s note: I wrote this not-so-nice review back in early 2013 as a facebook note. The fact that I mention both Gamefly AND Block Buster in this same article probably dates this piece a considerable amount. Also, as a bit of an ironic twist, I ended up actually buying this game three years later for less than five bucks at a second hand shop, and I’ll still occasionally play it when I can’t bother to fish out my copy of Perfect Dark 64.

The Syndicate series is a bit obscure in the video game world, even by cyberpunk standards. Though most people, myself included, were barely out of their diapers when the first game came out in 1993, I did in fact manage to play their sequel Syndicate Wars on the PC. By the way, good luck finding a copy of either, unless you want to pay Ebay over one-hundred dollars and use DOS-box to run the damn things. And much like its two predecessors, the new game can be just as hard to find as a rental if you don’t have a GameFly account. I almost had to beg the only Block Buster store within fifty miles to reserve a copy for me. This massive inconvenience alone, no thanks to the (but largely enviable) burgeoning online mail-in rental industry could be a topic I could post an entirely separate thread about, but I digress.

Syndicate, the reboot to the 1990s cult favorite, tells the story of a corporate-dystopian future where — no surprise — corporations have become the new nation states. The game is a First-Person-Shooter, shown to you through the perspective of Miles Kilo (the surname, no doubt a clever reference to the Executive Producer’s favorite pastime). Kilo works for Eurocorp, one of the major conglomerates that control the world in this dark anarcho-capitalist future. Your protagonist at the start of the game has been implanted with a Dart 6 brain chip — the latest in corporate wet-ware — which allows the player to see the world in a digitally augmented reality state. This device also allows you to remotely hack terminals, as well as humans who you can then either control them in order to turn them against their allies or force them to commit suicide.

You’re then teamed up with the very sociopathic, Merit, whose pastimes include: shooting innocent civilians, blowing up buildings, and talking about how awesome the female scientists’ racks are. Another supporting character is the inventor of the Dart 6 chip, Lily Drawl, who is supposed to be Kilo’s moral compass throughout the story even though she has no qualms watching you put holes in the bodies of other people at close range.

The acting, as well as the story, seems phoned-in. Kilo, I’m sure for budget purposes, remains the silent protagonist who has to be strung along by the other characters otherwise he’d probably just sit there. Merit’s voice actor sounds crawling on lips drunk, which interestingly enough makes his stupid antics in the game almost plausible. Lily Drawl’s voice actress seems to be the most competent, but doesn’t give a whole lot of range for you to feel invested in her emotionally. Even the writer for this game, Richard Morgan, cyberpunk author of Altered Carbon and Market Forces, doesn’t seem to be trying.

The story itself is pretty basic: a lone man, who has worked for corporations his whole life, has a crisis of conscience after a job goes bad and is now being hunted by the very people who’ve worked with him his entire career. True to EA form, the game also has a conclusion that is open-ended enough to warrant a sequel, which is required by law nowadays in the video game biz, apparently. It’s a story-mode so paint-by-numbers predictable, it could’ve just been a list that Morgan had to check off as he wrote the script. Whether you’re a Chomsky-leftist or a hard line Ayn Rand acolyte, there’s very little intellectual-wank-material to be had here.

As far as the gameplay is concerned, you’re still getting a half-way decent shooter. However, if you were an old fan of the previous games RPG elements, you’ll be severely disappointed. Most of the squad-based tactics have been taken out and replaced with you working with an NPC to complete mission objectives. Even my favorite aspect of the series, which was the economic management of your corporate enclaves and the upkeep of R&D for your trench coat assassins has been completely tossed out. Though to make up for this, the player can earn cash or experience points that can be put towards augmentations that give you certain perks like X-ray vision, optical-camo or faster cool-down times in between using abilities. The guns are stylish, but nothing you haven’t seen before in any other FPS, with the exception of two: one that can shoot through walls and another whose bullets can track a target around corners. You won’t be able to travel to wherever you want to either like you did in the previous games, but will only be whisked away to exotic locals if the story permits it. The game is much more linear, shootier and turns the hacking mini-games into single-click, wait-’em-out-before-they-shoot-you-out time crunchers.

When I was playing this game however, there was one game that kept coming to mind whenever I attempted a cyber-brain hack or a corporate infiltration (which was able as subtle as a shotgun shell through a door and I’m not kidding about that), that game being Deus Ex 3 (or Deus Ex: Human Revolution if you insist on it). Syndicate not only was trying to make you forget all about the previous, much better versions that came before it, but also the fact that a much better cyberpunk game from last year was still on the market. It had all the aspects of a Deus Ex game, without the open-endedness of the story-line or gameplay. Though it might be fairer to state that Syndicate is probably the best sequel that Perfect Dark 64 never got, it doesn’t even have repertoire of choice in weapons and gadgets that justify the label. It was almost depressing playing this game as it tried to so hard to impress me. Trying so hard to awe me with its graphics, trying to so hard to pull my heartstrings with Kilo’s tragic past, trying to throw as many flashy explosions and sleek skylines at me as humanly possible. It was like a younger, less competent child, attempting to outdo their much older, smarter and beautiful sibling, and like any good parent I was going to validate Syndicate’s need to feel special. However, I could only bring to give it just enough attention so that it may feel just a little less hopeless about its disposition all the while giving Deus Ex the preferred treatment behind Syndicate’s back. I probably shouldn’t go into parenting.

The Disaster Artist Is A Love Letter To The Young & Struggling Artist [Article]

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The first thing that can be said about this film is that The Disaster Artist cannot really be understood without seeing The Room first. At the same time, The Room also can’t be fully understood without reading the Disaster Artist.

I saw The Room sometime in the year 2010 when I was still in college. It had taken me awhile to get around to it, but by that time any self respecting American pop culture buff was being required to watch it as a right of passage. I became obsessed with that movie and my fandom can be proven by the two videos that I posted lauding both the film and the tell-all book that surrounded it.

The Room has been quoted as being the “Citizen Kane” of bad movies, but I’d argue that it may also go down in history as the height of transgressive cinema of the early 21st century. It was a perfect storm of bad acting, cinematography, and writing despite having an incredibly simple plot: a soon-to-be-married woman trying to hide an affair from her fiance. It was also under absurd management by being also produced, directed, written, stared in as the main lead, and solely financed by the man who became the enigmatic legend behind The Room itself: Tommy Wiseau.

I was one of the few crazy enough to buy a signed copy of The Disaster Artist when it came out in the fall of 2013, and I was even most ecstatic when the book got adapted into a film. Now that all that exposition and self-indulgent fan nostalgia diary nonsense is out of the way, I can finally tell you how good the movie actually is. But first…

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Proof that I ain’t no liar!

The Disaster Artist follows the author of the tell-all book and friend to Tommy Wiseau, Greg Sestero as it takes place five years prior to the making of The Room. It starts with the then struggling 19-year-old, Greg, a self-conscious actor trying to make it in Los Angeles, meeting Tommy Wiseau in the same acting class together. The movie starts off in the same way that the books does and more or less follows their journey together ending at the night of the premiere of Tommy’s film.

Throughout the movie you see the struggles of both aspiring actors. For Tommy, a man who is clearly much older and less talented, becomes the fodder for the audience’s second-hand embarrassment as he blunders and fails through the grueling and punishing process of being rejected by Hollywood along with his eccentric wardrobe, mumble vampire accent, and ego-inducing shield of self-denial. Greg is juxtaposed as the too-self-aware, but slowly succeeding actor who initially latches onto Tommy’s relentless optimism and finds that positivist attitude to be the push he needed to succeed.

However, this is short lived as both men reach a brick wall in their budding careers as actors (Tommy’s fall coming much sooner than Greg’s) and are forced to realize that they may never be able to make it in Hollywood. It is then that the bizarre seed is planted inside Tommy’s mind to simply create and star in his own film and have Greg be cast as a major co-star.

It is here that we then see the main focus of the film and the book come to life as the audience becomes enveloped in the behind the scenes look as to how this production beat all the odds and managed to even see the light of day at all.

For fans of the Disaster Artist, they get a taste of the book’s major highlights in the film such as: the insane first encounter with Greg meeting Tommy, the funny-but-embarrassing script readings in the Italian restaurant, the big move to LA, Tommy’s flame out and eventual writing of the screenplay, The Room’s funny and perverse actor auditions, The Chris R show down, Tommy barking orders at crew members while naked and doing a sex scene on set, the production crew mutiny, Greg’s falling out with Tommy, the insane ad campaigns, the lying, the manipulations, the rejections, the redemption, and eventually the premiere itself.

For fans of The Room, they also get proper fan service with the actors in the Disaster Artist re-enacting real scenes from The Room verbatim all the way down to the sets and costumes, which gives the film an added authenticity to the source material as well as a meta vibe to the whole experience.

Overall, it conveys the essence of the book. However, having said that, the film does have it’s problems. Firstly, since it’s only ninety-minutes long, certain parts from the book had to be cut, but it also made the film come off as being incredibly rushed. For those like myself who read the book, it felt like whiplash watching whole chapters being condensed to minutes or even seconds on screen while being forced to endure the film’s need to hit the hyper-drive button as quickly as possible in order to move on to the next plot point. I also thought that it didn’t provide a good enough transitional period for the audience to slowly see Greg’s growing resentment over Tommy and his ego alienating Greg, while Tommy’s jealousy over Greg’s “Hollywood success” becomes an even larger wedge in the friendship. Greg’s depiction in the film is also too optimistic during the filming scenes of The Room, lacking the self-awareness that was made clear in the book as Greg describes in detail how much he grew to hate being on set with Tommy and knowing that The Room would go on to become a massive flop in theaters (well before it’s eventual rise into cult film status).

These issues can be ignored, but what obviously can’t be denied is the influences and forces that guided Greg, Tommy, The Room, The Disaster, and film adaptation. At it’s core, both the book and the film are a lesson in the struggles of making it as an artist in today’s modern world and the unintended consequences of never giving up on one’s dreams. As a writer, I often find myself wondering if my work will ever be recognized, far from the worries of any established artist wondering if they’re being taken seriously or treated as a joke after hitting that lucky, one-in-a-million chance of getting famous. However, as Tommy and Greg soon find out, whether it’s success, in film, art, or writing fame is earned for reasons and circumstances that often out of one’s own control; and with that fame comes with it it’s own kind of baggage.