Saturday, February 26, 2011

Neuromancer by William Gibson

Neuromancer by William Gibson is a science fiction novel released in 1984 that won numerous awards for science fiction and is generally regarded to have founded the genre known as "cyberpunk." It is an extremely intriguing tale of cybernetics, cyberspace, artificial intelligence, and the effect of high technology on the world.

The book is a fairly difficult read in the sense that at a given time it can be difficult to know if "you" are in the real world, cyberspace, on earth or in space so I'm going to give some background on each character and the general setting before getting to the summary & questions.


Wintermute - one half of a "Super-AI" that was created illegally by the TA family and they lost control of it. Needs to unite with it's other half "Neuromancer" to become the true "Super-AI" as it was illegal to create a singular "Super-AI" at the time of Wintermute's creation. It directs the team of Armitage, Case, Molly, and The Dixie Flatline to attempt to accomplish this goal.

Case - degenerate former computer hacker who had is ability to "jack-in" to cyberspace taken from him after he stole from one of his employers. Has this ability returned to him after Armitage (at Wintermute's command) pays for his nervous system to be repaired so he can help Wintermute.

Armitage - former military, part of an experimental program known as "The Screaming Fist" that has left him psychologically unstable. He is the head of the crew that Wintermute is putting together.

Molly - A "razorgirl" who is also recruited by Armitage. She has extensive cybernetic implants including implants granting her superhuman reflexes and retractable 4cm double-edged razor blades that come out from under her finger nails. She also has implanted mirrored lenses over her eyes with various optical enhancements (a heads up display of info., etc.). So where her eyes would be just looks like mirrors from the outside.

Peter Riviera - a crazy, hopelessly drug-addicted, thief who can project holographic images using cybernetic implants.

The Dixie Flatline - famous computer hacker, taught Case how to hack, became famous for surviving three flat-lines on his EEG while trying to hack an AI. He is now dead but his mind is stored on what is basically a flash drive. It is this "construct" that helps Case throughout the novel.

General Setting

A dystopian future where technology rules. The space where data flows freely is formally called the Matrix (I am not kidding, no relation to the movie), also known as cyberspace (Gibson invented this term). Organs and any kind of tissue can be grown in a lab. Instead of steroids there are "muscle grafts" where surgeons implant muscle grown in a lab onto people's bodies. Cybernetics are common place. Many people think of their body as "the meat" and the matrix is slowly becoming the new reality.


The novel starts off with Case as a low level drug dealer/hustler in the underworld of Chiba City, Japan. He is living a self destructive lifestyle, sleeping in 9' long 3' high "rooms" called coffins by day, and dealing drugs by night. It is a given that he will be killed if he continues living like he is much longer. Luckily for him Molly comes along and recruits him for Armitage's team with the promise of restoring his ability to enter the matrix. His ability is restored but sacs of poison are placed on his blood vessels that will re-disable him if he fails to complete the job in time. Case's first task is to hack into the network of a corporation called Sense/Net so that Molly can steal The Dixie Flatline from the building. After this is done Molly and Case start investigating Armitage and find out that he used to be Colonel Willis Corto. Many years prior the government had sent him on a suicide mission to test Russian air defenses. Corto didn't know it was a suicide mission and his survival was a problem for the government. They rebuilt him as he was extensively wounded during his escape from the Russians and used him to cover up the whole incident. However, Corto was left mentally unstable and the government abandoned him. This is when Case and Molly find out that it is the AI Wintermute that is actually calling the shots. The team then travels to Istanbul to recruit Riviera into the team. While in Istanbul Case and Molly find out that Wintermute was created by the TA family who's fortune alternates among members of the family who spend most of their time in cryonic preservation, only thawing for short periods of several decades to manage the company. They are housed in the Villa Straylight, a mansion on the space station called Freeside. Inside Villa Straylight the member of the TA family that is thawed currently resides and has the code that Wintermute needs to unite with Neuromancer. Case's job is to use a virus program to break down the barriers of Villa Straylight's network security so Molly and Riviera can get to this person. Riviera will use his abilities to obtain the code that Wintermute needs from the currently thawed member of the TA family, Lady 3Jane Marie-France (the third clone of the original Jane). Once the team of Molly and Riviera make it to Lady 3Jane Riviera turns on Molly and Case goes in after her. A standoff between Case, Molly, Lady 3Jane, Riviera, and Lady 3Jane's vat grown ninja bodyguard Hideo ensues. I will not ruin the ending for you.

Artist's rendition of what the matrix/cyberspace as portrayed in the novel might look like.

Random other interesting tech. in the story
-Molly has had a "simstim" implanted in her brain that allows Case to use his computer to connect with her brain and see through her eyes and feel what she feels. He can hear what she says and what goes on around her but she cannot hear anything he says.

-Molly's ranged weapon of choice is a pistol called a "fletcher" that shoots microscopic poison darts.

-The human-computer interface is handled by what are called 'trodes that plug into the person's skull. When these are plugged in it is referred to as "jacking-in"


1) With the success of Watson on Jeopardy humanity is coming closer and closer to being able to build computers that actually "think" (artificial intelligence) instead of just process data. An AI is one of the central characters in Neuromancer and is an extreme technological breakthrough but also is something that is able to kill people indirectly and appears to have no sense of morality or what might be referred to as a "soul." Do you think humans should continue trying to develop artificial intelligence? Why? What could some of the benefits be, a quick example is that IBM says Watson (who is not a true AI) could be used for medical diagnosis? Risks?

2) In the world of Neuromancer personal identity is an interesting concept. Who is a person really, what makes up someone's identity? Just their personality, as is the case with The Dixie Flatline? A combination of their personality and physical body, as it the case with Molly? Who they are in the matrix, as could be the case with Case as he is a drastically different "person" in the matrix then in the real world? Does an AI have an identity and if not then what is it? What does the matrix do to the concept of identity? Feel free to comment on any one of these questions.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

This novel is written by Jhumpa Lahiri, the author of the short story collection "Interpreter of Maladies." Consequently, it shares many of the same cultural themes; it portrays the struggles of a Bengali couple who recently immigrated to the United States to begin a new life. The novel begins with a character named Ashima Ganguli who is a young bride about to give birth to her first child in a hospital in Massachusetts. Her husband, Ashoke, is an engineering student at MIT. Ashima is nervous not only because of the fact that she is on the verge of giving birth but also because she wishes that she could be delivering this baby in Calcutta, watching friends execute all of the proper Bengali ceremonies. As the two new parents are preparing to bring home their new son, they quickly realize that the hospital will not let them leave before they give their son a name. However, the traditional naming process amongst the Bengalis is to have an elder present the baby with a name. Ashima's grandmother was chosen to assume this role, yet unfortunately, the letter inscribed with the baby's name never reaches them. The grandmother soon dies, and Ashoke decides to name their son Gogol. Gogol is the name of his favorite Russian author and additionally, he had been reading a work of Gogol before he encountered a near death train accident. When Gogol reaches the age of about fourteen, he begins to hate his name. As a result, his parents attempt to give him a more "public" name, a Bengali tradition. They choose Nikhil, and he has his name legally changed to this before departing for college. Not only does Gogol change his name, but he also diverges from following in his father's footsteps, for he chooses to go to Yale instead of MIT. This causes tension amongst the family; it is becoming increasingly more and more clear that Gogol wishes to become American versus Bengali. He starts going home less frequently, dates a series of American girls, and becomes very enraged when people refer to him as Gogol. Later in the novel, when Nikhil goes home for the summer, his train stops abruptly due to a man that had jumped in front of the train in an attempt to commit suicide. Ashoke picks him up from the train station and once the two have arrived home in the driveway, Ashoke explains the meaning behind his decision to name him Gogol. It is during this moment that he starts to regret ever changing his name. Nikhil now lives in a small apartment in New York City where he works in an architectural office. One night at a party, he meets a girl named Maxine. He quickly becomes extremely involved amongst the activities within her family and has truly become a contributing member. Not long after Nikhil's parents meet Maxine, Ashoke dies of a sudden heart attack. Nikhil then decides to end his relationship with Maxine. After a little while, Ashima suggests that he call the daughter of one of her good friends, a daughter that he knows from his childhood. Her name is Moushumi, and she is Bengali. Rather reluctantly, Nikhil decides to meet with her. They become very much attracted to one another and eventually decide to marry. Unfortunately, Moushumi begins to regret this decision to marry, and when she comes across the name of a man from her high school days, she begins an affair with him. Nikhil and Moushumi divorce. The novel ends with Ashima selling their house in order to be able to live in India for a few months. Sonia, Nikhil's sister is planning to marry an American man, leaving Nikhil alone yet again. However, the novel closes with him feeling a sense of comfort from the collection of Russian stories that his father had left him many years ago; he has now truly accepted his name.

Discussion questions:

1). What, if any, are the significances of Gogol's many love interests? Do you think it has to do with his struggle for his identity?

2). Why do you think it is so difficult for people to assimilate within a new culture while upholding their original culture at the same time? What traditions do you value in your own family or culture, and why do you feel it is important to have them? Do you think that sometimes these traditions fade away? Why or why not?

William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.

The tragedy of Julius Caesar opens with Caesar returning from battle and the Romans are ecstatic because of the victory. The crowd is so pleased with Caesar, they try to crown him king three times. Caesar though, does not take the crown. That night, storms and supernatural events happen all over Rome, and Caesar's closest friends and guards meet up to plan a murder because they are afraid Caesar will become too powerful. They decide that they would kill Caesar the next day at Senate.
The next morning, Caesar's wife, Calphurnia, tries to convince him to stay home because she had night terrors that had to do with Caesar's fate. Dispite his wife's wishes, Caesar still travels to the city. On his way there, he is approched by a witch type person who warns him to "beware the ides of March". Caesar basically blows her off, saying that she is just foolish. After Caesar's speech at the senate, the men who planned to kill Caesar ask to speak with him. They all begin to bow down to Caesar, then one by one begin stabbing him. When Caesar see's his best friend, Brutus, he gives up his struggle to survive and dies. (Spoiler Alert?)
The murdurs soak their hands in Caesar's blood, but Brutus weeps for him, guilty of his actions. Antony approches the men and ask's why Caesar had to be killed and they reply it was necessary for the good of Rome. When the men leave, Antony swears that Caesar's death will be avenged.
From this point on to the end of the play, the murdurs must deal with their guilt of killing Caesar and learn to deal with their own internal conflicts. Some of the men fail when confronting their internal conflicts, leading to their downfall.
1.) In the story, Calphurnia, Caesar's wife, tries to get him to stay home because of bad dreams she had dealing with Caesar's fate. If you had a dream that your significant other was going to be harmed, would you try to convince them to take caution or would you just let it go?
2.) Brutus, being a loyal Roman, knew that he had no choice but to kill Caesar in order to be loyal to Rome. If you knew someone within the country was going to do harm, would you go to such drastic measures to uphold the well-being of the country?

In Cold Blood

In Cold Blood by: Truman Capote
This graphic novel goes into detail about the murder of four in a small midwestern town. This murder takes place decades ago where people lived a much simpler style of life. A respected, church going, honorable man, named Herb Clutter fathers the family of four including his wife, son, and daughter. Owner of a very successful farm, Mr. Clutter is both successful and well liked. Within the small, spread out community, everyone seems to know everyone's business, and everyone is Herb's friend, or so he thought. One summer night, all was quiet in the small town, except in the Clutter house. Following a date with daughter Nancy Clutter's boyfriend, two convicted felons breached the house, searched for money, and disposed of the 4 Clutter family members. Capote's rendition of these murders is extremely graphic, much too graphic for this blog, and I warn anyone interested in this book that it is very disturbing. The novel does not conclude with the murders, but rather focuses on the hunt for the evil murderers. They travel from Kansas to Mexico, to California and back to Kansas, all while evading the authorities. The motives for the murders, along with the mental issues of the criminals, are revealed through flashbacks while on this journey. Also, Capote puts you in the head of many of the small town's residents. Scared and intimidated, many move or cannot sleep for months. Everyone is worried they are next. With the FBI on the case, this search has gone nationwide with authorities everywhere looking for the culprits. Will the criminals be caught? Read it or watch the movie and find out!
1) Within this novel, Truman Capote combined elements of fiction and nonfiction to complete the work. Based off a true story and using real facts, while still fabricating some portions Capote felt he had made a major impact on the literary community. Are novels better when they are fiction, nonfiction, or a combination of? Why?
2) Would murderers like this be able to run from the police today like they did within the novel? How has technology, awareness, and larger police forces helped us to catch some of the most dangerous of criminals?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Purgatorio by Dante Aligheri

Fresh from the depths of hell, Dante and Virgil must prepare their ascent into heaven, beginning at the bottom of Mount Purgatorio on Easter morning, but Dante must first wash away his "uncleanliness" from the Inferno. As a ship approaches, Dante must kneel and fold his hands because an angel guides the ship. While the pair are entering Ante-Purgatory, Dante notices he has a shadow while Virgil does not. Virgil simply says it is one of God's phenomena. The illegitimate son of Fredrick II, Manfred, approaches Dante to tell Manfred's daughter his sins were absolved even though he did not receive proper burial; that even repenting late in one's life can buy a path to heaven. As they reach the First Spur, Virgil explains this is where those who are late repenters must stay because of their negligence and Purgatorio is on the opposite hemisphere of Jerusalem (back then there was only one hemisphere) so the sun is always at Dante's left. Mount Purgatorio is where spirits who have been released from their bodies must stay to wait for their chance at heaven. Dante and Virgil reach the Valley of the Rulers, where kings have been placed, and his first day comes to an end; leaving only six more days to complete the ascent. As Dante dreams, the angel St. Lucia carries him to the Purgatory from the Valley of the Rulers and then must pass through seven levels of the mountain. The First Terrace (farthest from heaven) belongs to the Prideful. One spirit explains he regrets his unwarranted pride because then he would not have witnessed the downfall of his people. Great acts of humilty are the only way to make it past the First Terrace. Those who are Envious claim the Second Terrace and suffer with their eyes sewn shut so they cannot cry. As an angel blinds Dante, the pair approach the Third Terrace, where the Wrathful remain. Dante learns the cause of human corruption: men do not take responsibility for their actions but that also men are born inexperienced and innocent, but also need guidance from their leaders. The Fourth Terrace consists of the Slothful. Virgil explains to Dante during the night that all actions, good and evil, stems from some form of love. The Fifth Terrace is then made up of the Avaricious (Greedy) and the Prodigal (wasteful extravagance). Dante feels frequent earthquakes now, which represents spirits entering Heaven. The Sixth Terrace is then reached, also known as home of the Gluttons. These spirits suffer by living in Limbo without food or water. Virgil reveals Antigone and Ismene are kept in the Fourth Terrace. The final Terrace is approached where those who are Lustful reside. Virgil explains, at death the sould either goes to the entrance of the Prugatorio or the Inferno, but the soul retains its intellect, memory, and will. Dante and Virgil cross a river of fire and then dante becomes his own guide. Dante reaches Earthly Paradise and a chariot approaches. Beatrice rides with the chariot and Dante begins to cry but she criticizes him that he did not follow God's plan after death. Beatrice says she had to take Dante on this journey to see the torture and torment of lost souls for himself. Dante then finally must wash away his sins and dismiss his shame and fear to finally reach Paradise.

1. If Dante's works of literature were taken as seriously as the bible, do you think Purgatorio would be considered the way into heaven?

2. Do you believe in Virgil's explanation that all actions, good and evil, have stemed from the roots of love?

3. Does one's spirit contol one's intellect, memory, and will? Does the soul move onto the afterlife?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Mrs frank I cannot comment on people's blogs. This counts though

Atonement by Ian McEwan

Atonement is the story of an annoying little twelve year old girl named Briony who enjoys making up stories. The novel starts off the day her older brother Leon is returning home from college and she plans to put on a play for him and his friend called "The Trials of Arabella" along with her cousins, a girl and two boys, that are staying with her family. Earlier that day she saw a scene with her older sister Cecilia and the son of one of the maids, Robbie Turner, and came to the conclusion that Robbie was some sort of "sex maniac." In actuality the two have fallen in love. That night the two boy cousins run away and everyone goes out to search for them. Briony is by herself searching in the woods and stumbles on a man raping her cousin Lola. She's not sure who it was, but tells the police it was Robbie. Robbie is then sentenced to jail and eventually enlisted into the army for WWII. Robbie and Cecilia never see eachother again and they both die before Robbie's tenure in the army is up. In the end Briony realizes it was her brother's friend who raped her cousin. The reader also realizes by the end that the book was actually written by Briony and that it was her "atonement" for what she did to her sister and Robbie.

1.Do you think that any amount of apology could make up for what Briony did to her sister?

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf


Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf was written in 1925 follows the ordinary day of an english woman named Clarissa Dalloway. The novel takes place in one post-world war I day from morning to night. Clarissa begins her day picking up flowers and finishing her plans for her dinner party that evening. She begins thinking about her husband Mr. Dalloway and how she had made the right choice between two other men, one being Peter Walsh. Peter then unexpectedly drops by Carissa's house later one just back from India. The meeting abruptly ends when Peter asks his ex-girlfriend and the woman he proposed to, Clarissa, if she was happy with her life. Peter begins to feel all the emotion again and leave to spend sometime in Regent's Park. Peter then watches a man named Septimus, a man who suffers WWI injuries, and his wife. Lucrezia and her husband decided to wait in the park for Septimus' psychiatrist appointment. He obviously suffers from a mental illness due to the horrors of the war. Sir William Bradshaw, the psychiatrist, fails to realize that he may be able to help Septimus and decides to send him to a mental institution. Later on, the doctors come to pick up Septimus, but he feels that they will take away everything he is. Septimus, being suicidal, believes the only way out is to kill him self. Septimus throws himself off the window ledge. The party starts and all major and minor characters arrive, but Bradshar arrives later because one of his patients has died. Clarissa hears of the news and is angry that he has brought news of a death to her party but almost admires Septimus for not compromising himself or his soul. She begins to feel disgraced that she only strives for a higher social status while other people are dealing with problems greater than her own. Clarissa ends the novel with an epiphany that she has chosen the wrong path in life. She regrets most of the decisions she has made, yet accepts them and returns to her party.

1. Clarissa begins to see her own life in a new light once she hears of Septimus' death. Do tragic events put things into perspective and show what's important in life?

2. At the end of the novel, Clarissa regrets the decisions she made in life, but accepts the mistakes she has made. Do you think that you are able to accept the past or never move on from it?