Monday, May 15, 2017

Snow Falling on Video Games

Snow Crash
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson would have worked a whole lot better as a video game. There are countless fight sequences, chase scenes, and detailed descriptions of weapons and gear. Some of levels - ahem, settings I mean - are remarkably imaginative and would be very fun to play around in. Though many gamers don't go in for this kind of thing as much as I once did, the interactions between Hiro and the Librarian as well as some of the more colorful side characters would have entertained and inspired me quite a lot in the manner of backstory/literary/historical content heavy games such as Deus Ex and Alpha Centauri that I loved as an adolescent.

Unfortunately, Neal Stephenson made Snow Crash a novel, not a video game, although apparently his original goal was to publish it as a 'computer-generated graphic novel.' That sounds like it would have been a much more fascinating project. It also would have obviated the need for Stephenson to type up so many badly written passages. The cringe inducing dialogue would have been easier to forgive inside speech bubbles. I don't mean to be cruel here, but by the author's own admission on the 'Acknowledgements' page, he spent more time fruitlessly coding custom image processing software to produce the aborted graphic version during the production of the work than he did actually writing it. That indicates to me that his raison d'etre was something other than producing a great novel in the traditional sense.

As I said before, there are some pretty cool things in here. Some interesting ideas sluice about. It has promise. But the characters are flat and mostly lifeless. The creepily sexualized 15-year-old punk skater girl Y.T. is the worst victim of Stephenson's poor abilities at characterization. The scene in which she reaches orgasm literally in the first moment a hulking man two or three times her age sticks his dick into her is almost idiotic enough to qualify the book for a failing grade all on its own. At least have the decency to set your creepy rapey fantasies inside the Metaverse.

The plot manages to be overly convoluted and entirely simplistic at the same time. The ending in particular leaves one dissatisfied at the vague and unintentional anticlimax after all the build up of the previous 400 pages. The legitimately thrilling moment where Y.T. kicks the tablet out of the helicopter is squandered when it leads to a yet another series of overwrought chase and fight scenes.

The book strains in its attempts at humor, at profundity, at pathos, at suspense, at depth. Its potentially compelling vision for the future of endless franchise restaurants and logos as a form of light in themselves are undercut by a weird belief that soon-to-be-forgotten Reagan era figures such as Ed Meese would remain relevant enough to provide the name for trillion dollar bills and such. The inclusion of WWII and Vietnam as important events in the lives of its characters or their parents also rubbed me the wrong way - how near in the future are we supposed to believe this takes place?

My choice for sci-fi author par excellence, Phillip K. Dick, can be accused of writing bad dialogue, and of poor prose style more general. But at least his character possess enough humanity for you to actually connect with them as more than mere avatars in a boring, non-interactive video game. At least his ideas feel more original than the mishmash of undigested research that dominates too much of Snow Crash. Even when his stories are confusing, Dick's work is never as long and as pointless convoluted as this book is.

To wrap up this overlong whinge of a review - this novel is far too dull and obvious to justify its length. Perhaps it is obvious because reality has caught up with the world Stephenson imagines. But there's no excuse for it being dull - it wastes far too many fireworks for that to be intentional.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

More Wikipedia Pages I've Created

A few years ago I shared a list of Wikipedia pages I've created. Well, I've written a bunch more since then and so I thought I'd do a bit of an update. And I may ask myself, Robbie, what are you doing with your life? I'm just having fun with it. Here they are:

The Faraway Nearby - A book by one of my favorite authors Rebecca Solnit. In this one she combines memoir, literary criticism, travelogue in another dazzling hybrid.

White Girls - Hilton Als' very peculiar collection of essays about notable white girls, including Truman Capote, Flannery O’Connor and of course Michael Jackson.

The Funkees - The Funkees were an afro-rock/funk group that came out of Nigeria in the 70s, contemporaneous with Fela Kuti but with tighter songwriting.

Day Wave - Day Wave is an indie rock band. Shhh don't tell Wikipedia's schoolmarmish editors but the members of the band are close friends of mine from school days.

Gabriel Joaquim dos Santos - This dude is a super cool outsider artist/architect who built a structure called The House of the Flower in Brazil.

Dominik Lang - He's a Czech installation artist. I saw an impressive work of his at Inhotim.

Joseph Crépin - Crépin was a crazy spiritualist outsider artist. I love outsider artists.

Gaston Chaissaic - Another outsider-y artist. Since creating this article, I got to see Chaissaic's work in person at the Centre Pompidou.

Bogosav Živković - A Serbian outsider artist-carpenter. He made sculpture out of wood, and I'm obssesed with his name. His first name especially pleases my ears when I hear it and brain when I think of it.

Wes Anderson's Directing Style - Okay, so I didn't create the article on Wes Anderson, but I did add a detailed discourse on his stylistic techniques as a filmmaker. 

Apocalyspe, girl - It's a really good album by Jenny Hval, that genius singer of feminist horror lullabies.

Kate Berlant - She is a very funny comedian. Go watch 555 right now.

Salomo Friedlaender - A weirdo expressionist German writer of grotesques and philosophical satires who published under the pseudonym 'Mynona' which is the German word for anonymous spelled backwards.

Multiple Choice - A really good and cool novel by Chilean prankster Alejandro Zambra. It feels as much like a collection of poetry and short stories as a novel, and it is very short. And good.

As before, I often publish only the seeds of a good Wikipedia article, and when the planets align other editors help it bloom into a real article much to my delight. In general, I've been trying to improve Wikipedia's coverage of outsider artists, as well as obscure, forgotten, neglected, abandoned, forsaken, unrecognized, unacknowledged, overshadowed, out-of-fashion authors, playwrights, filmmakers, performers, and artists of all kinds.