Trouble and Her Friends, Neuromancer, and what makes sci fi last.

I can’t believe I forgot this moment of absolute GLORY at the Science Fiction Museum!

They had a gigantic wall graphic which was a sort of timeline of sci fi, seperating it into different eras based on the general subject matter of the sci fi at the time, and tying it to “current events” in the world at large. They illustrated the whole thing with a gigantic collage of book covers, authors’ photographs, illustrations, and screenshots from movies and TV. It was interesting information, but it was also fantastic geekery to go through everything and exclaim over everything we recognized. They had a nice big picture of the Doctor and some daleks!

They ALSO had the cover for Trouble and Her Friends. I discovered this book in my Gender and Cyberculture class (possibly one of the best classes I’ve ever taken) and it may very well be my favourite book ever. I am actually amazed I haven’t written about it yet. It’s out of print but used copies are starting at $0.01 on Amazon and your library may have a copy as well. You should locate it right now. It’s OK, I can wait.

What’s this? WHY so I adore this book? Well, it’s lesbian cyberpunk! You need more than that? It’s lesbian cyberpunk in which the lesbians neither die nor go insane!

Looking at it, it’s actually gotten some pretty poor reviews on Amazon, mostly for focusing on all this gay stuff instead of plot. What makes me want to laugh is that it’s compared unfavorably to Neuromancer, which is possibly one of the worst books I’ve ever forced myself to read. Seriously, I was on a 22-hour flight and it was my only book, and I just kept putting it down.

I can see the parallels. Both books center around a Second Life-like cyberspace populated with three-dimensional avatars. Both protagonists are former hackers, though Chase (in Neuromancer) wants back into hacking, whereas Cerise (in Trouble) was prepared to stay legit if it weren’t for the fact that her ex-lover, Trouble, was in trouble. From what I remember it’s a similar kind of plot with exciting virtual-reality shootouts and car chases, but a lot of really, really dated predictions for the future.

However, Trouble has something OTHER than plot, which, in my mind, makes it the superior book. Trouble is not just about neat techy stuff, but also about what it means to be an outsider, trying to fit in versus blazing your own trail, the importance of friendship…plus hot lesbian sex. Especially since I was the only lesbian I knew at the time, it was hugely refreshing to see a group of homosexual characters presented with an understanding of what it’s like, culturally, to be gay, and to be presented with protagonists in whose stories I could see my own (if only I was a kick-ass hacker). Actually, even the tech in Trouble is more interesting to me, since it involves two competing ways to interact with cyberspace– the simpler way that Neuromancer proposes, where the metaphor is maintained purely through visual cues, but also a more dangerous (and interesting) way, where one installs a “brainworm” that simulates actual sensations, making cyberspace not just a metaphor, but a reality.

Neuromancer, on the other hand…dear god. It had the sorriest excuse for “characters” that I’ve ever tried to sympathize with. (If I ever have the willpower, I’ll write about Molly and Y.T. from the Gibson books I’ve read. Short version: they have sex with the protagonist for no reason! They’re cool and strong, but not when it actually matters!) At least Snow Crash had an interesting premise to keep me going, but I’m sick of disaffected white guys just wandering through their books aimlessly. Maybe I’ve read too much post-war fiction lately (I tried to get through Catch-22 on that plane, too) but I prefer to read about characters who CARE about things. Something. Anything. Seriously. If the character doesn’t have any goals, or desires, or anything they care about, why in the WORLD should I care about THEM? Oh, right, because of the shiny, shiny “plot.”

Probably at the time, the universe posited in Neuromancer was unique enough to be interesting in its own right. My dad read it when it came out… in 1984. But science fiction has to do more than predict cool technology, if it wants to last. It has to tell us something about ourselves. The technological premises in Neuromancer are no longer new or interesting, and while it surely deserves respect as a groundbreaking work for its time, it’s Trouble and Her Friends that I found compelling even ten years later, and I expect it’s Trouble that will still be interesting when the next generation is my age. Maybe the plot isn’t as shiny and amazing, but it’s the heart of the book that really makes it worth reading.

So go storm your library, and read it!

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2 Responses to Trouble and Her Friends, Neuromancer, and what makes sci fi last.

  1. Crowfoot says:

    Done! well, not the reading, but the requesting from the library 🙂

    it’s interesting, isn’t it? some of those highly regarded books can read so dull and uninteresting. All “shiny shiny plot” and no heart.

    I’m looking forward to reading that “outsider” perspective, and with lesbians that don’t die \o/

  2. […] the things I’ve been trying to do is read Trouble And Her Friends, as recommended by eloriane last month. As eloriane points out, one kind of needs to be a bit forgiving of sci-fi that takes place in the […]

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