Book: Neuromancer

The book: Neuromancer, by William Gibson

The edition: Italian translation by Giampaolo Cossato and Sandro Sandrelli, as published by Editrice Nord, 256 pages

The story: see here (full story, spoilers included)

My experience with the book & my thoughts: imagine one of those spy stories or action movies where everyone is double-dealing and possibly triple-dealing and back-stabbing everyone else to the point that you come out of the theater with just a general idea of the plot, but would be hard pressed to explain the details. Now imagine a story set in a world that is completely different from what we know, and full of words that describe things we don’t have and therefore have no words for; and think about how difficult it is to enter this new world. Now combine the two and shake well. There you go, you have Neuromancer.
I read this with all the best intentions, but wasn’t ready for such impenetrable work. I understand that the effect was very much wanted, with Gibson saying:

I enjoy the idea that some levels of the text are closed to most readers.

and:

I was aware that Neuromancer was going to seem like a roller coaster ride to most readers- you’ve got lots of excitement but maybe not much understanding of where you’ve been or why you were heading there in the first place.

Except, I didn’t get the excitement.

What I liked: letting the book scare me for how much Gibson got it right.

What I didn’t like: everything else.

Language & translation: a “less than stellar” translation (yes, that’s an euphemism) didn’t help my understanding or enjoying the book — I don’t think it was my major problem, but it certainly didn’t help. Below the bad translation, I can see why someone would describe the writing as in a Goodreads comment I saw:

Gibson’s writing is poetry, not jargon. It’s personal, internal and emotional, not cold and externally descriptive. It’s the dark, fevered dream of a world where humanity and technology have been inextricably fused together with results both miraculous and profane. His prose is slick and jagged like a serrated knife; beautiful, breezy and hard-edged. His verse is color of gunmetal and electricity and the texture of anger spilling on a meadow of dashed hope and unearned rewards.

but that’s a level on which I cannot comment, obviously. Also, the names of real companies, and the word “microsoft” used as a common word (as opposed to a company name), gave me a strange sense of estrangement.

Links to better understand this book: (very much needed from my part!)

Read this if: I guess if you want to know about science fiction and cyberpunk, you’ll need to read this.

Counts as: Back to the classics challenge – a translated classic.

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Book: Journey to the Center of the Earth

The book: Journey to the Center of the Earth, by Jules Verne

The edition: Dover Thrift English edition, a republication of Routledge’s 1876 edition, 155 pages (I couldn’t find mention of the translator)

The story: following the suggestion of an old manuscript, professor Otto Lidenbrock drags his nephew Axel on a journey that descends through volcanic tubes supposedly in order to reach the center of the Earth. Impossible adventures ensue.

My experience with the book & my thoughts: I wasn’t a big fan of Verne as a child, but I did enjoy some of his books. My husband was way bigger a fan than me, and it was his idea that I read Journey to the Center of the Earth. Unfortunately, this one clashes with everything I know, and I kept thinking “this is not true, this cannot be true, stop it, you cannot think I will believe this”. That said, Verne’s style is still the same good, 19th century style that I recalled — dated, but passionate.

The part with spoilers: the potential thrill was killed for me by first person narrative. If the narrator had evidently survived (and lived to tell the tale), I just couldn’t be worried for him. Also, I feel that there were enough hints to the fact that all of them survived, so that it didn’t come as a surprise. Things grow more and more unbelievable towards the end, though.

What I liked: the only part I really enjoyed was the decryption of the initial enigma. But I can see the fascination of this kind of book on a younger audience. I also liked the touch of irony.

What I didn’t like: the three main characters. There was nothing likeable in any of them.

Language & translation: I imagine it feels dated to an English mother-tongue reader, but it felt eloquent to me. Nice choice of words.

In the author’s own words: a touch of irony:

Now, in mineralogy, there are many names difficult to pronounce — half Greek, half Latin, barbarous appellations which would blister the lips of a poet. I have no wish to speak ill of the science. Far from it. But when one has to do with rhomboidal crystallisations, retinasphaltic resins, galena favosite, molybdates of lead, tungstates of manganese, and titanites of zircon, the most nimble tongue may be allowed to stumble.

A touch of adventure:

“It is a colossal porpoise!”
“Yes,” said my uncle, “and there is a sea-lizard of uncommon size.”
“And beyond that a monstrous crocodile! See the great jaws and the rows of teeth! Ah! he is gone.”
“A whale! a whale!” exclaimed the professor.
[…]
Hans wanted to turn up into the wind to escape this dangerous neighbourhood; but on that side, new enemies, no less formidable, came into view; a turtle, forty feet long, a serpent, thirty feet, who moved his enormous head with a darting motion above the waves.

And some interesting descriptions of Iceland:

It would have been difficult to lose one’s way in Reikiavik, seeing there are but two streets, so I was not obliged to ask my way by making signs, which exposes one to many mistakes.

Links to better understand this book:

Random thought: is there a connection between giants and volcanoes? They see a giant in this book, and people were afraid of giants in the other book I recently read about a volcano.

Read this if: if you enjoyed other novels by Verne

Counts as: One! Two! Theme! Challenge – Geology/Vulcanology #2, Travel with Books – Iceland

Book: Mostly Harmless

Cover

The book: Mostly Harmless, by Douglas Adams

The edition: Pan Books paperback, 230 pages with foreword by Dirk Maggs, plus materials from the Douglas Adams archives

The story: the 5th and (very) final chapter of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy “trilogy”, wherein Arthur Dent has to deal with multiple Universes, sandwiches, Elvis Priesley, and his own daughter, about whom he didn’t know anything about. (And this is as much as I can write without spoiling this book or the previous ones.)

My experience with the book & my thoughts: since the first Guide book, things get more absurd and more complicated with each book. Still very enjoyable, extremely funny, and genial.

The part with spoilers: I don’t think I get how the Grebulons contributed to the Vogons destroying Earth. It has to do with swiveling turrets, but I just don’t get it.

What I liked: language, absurd and enjoyable fantasy.

What I didn’t like: the ending, and the way things get too complicated and only rely on absurd to glue them together.

Language & writing: I just love the inventiveness of it!

In the author’s own words: accidentally, this book explains very well why New York doesn’t appeal to me as a touristic destination (although it seems to fascinate almost anyone else):

Tricia loved New York because loving New York was a good career move. It was a good retail move, a good cuisine move, not a good taxi move or a great quality of pavement move, but definitely a career move that ranked amongst the highest and the best. Tricia was a TV anchor person, and New York was where most of the world’s TV was anchored.

Also, I love how Adams turns ideas around his little finger:

If you are reading this on planet earth, then:
a) Good luck to you. There is an awful lot of stuff you don’t know anything about. […]
b) Don’t imagine you know what a computer terminal is.
A computer terminal is not some clunky old television with a typewriter in front of it. It is an interface where the mind and body can connect with the Universe and move bits of it about.

But most of all I love the way he can turn words around his little finger. Like this:

[After a very complicated explanation] “Yes?”
“Y… e… e… s. Ish.”

And this:

There were about three other customers in the place, sitting at tables, nursing beers. About three. Some people would say there were exactly three, but it wasn’t that kind of place, not the kind of place that you felt like being specific in.

And this:

He wasn’t his job to worry about that, though. It was his job to do his job, which was to do his job.

Links to better understand this book:

Random thought: I recently realized that students in Coimbra use their capes in much the same way a hitchhiker should use a towel… for just about anything!

Read this if: if you have read and enjoyed the previous four.

Counts as: Global Reading Challenge – the 7th Continent

“if you are reading this on planet earth, then good luck to you