The Peripheral (William Gibson, 2014)

This book has been mocking me for year. As a life-long Gibson fan, I bought The Peripheral on the day of its release… and it has been sitting on my shelves for almost 10 years. I’ve been trying to read it every couple of years, only to give up around the third chapter. I guess that the usual Gibsonian crypticness, with its glossed-over neologisms and vague, uncanny-valley-generating everyday devices were too strong for my already deteriorating attention span. This time, spurred by curiosity for the TV adaptation, I pushed through, and I’m glad I did.

Overall, The Peripheral is a typical Gibson novel, for better or worse. I find Gibson really good at outlining atmospheres, precise and delightful silhouettes of characters ink-brushed fifteen minutes into our future. I love his ability to keep a delicate balance between thought-provoking anticipations and quiet pacing; it always makes me feel like Case waking on the empty and entirely virtual beach that Neuromancer has trapped him on. However, I’m more and more disappointed by Gibson’s plots, which are often weak and frail. It’s even more the case here, with an ending that seems tacked in at the last minute, and a bit dissonant.

Still, in spite of a steep start and a rushed ending, the novel was a pleasant journey. And I don’t have to feel guilty every time is see the book in my library anymore.

Un feu dans le ciel nordique (Baptiste Pilo, 2022)

A book titled A Blaze in the Northern Sky – black metal in Norway (1991-1999) can only be someone’s thesis, and this is exactly the case here. I bought it on a whim while browsing the arts & music section of a bookstore; I’m not versed at all in black metal, but I was curious to know a bit better such a niche topic. Thankfully, for all its academical origins, this book is very easy to read, and does cover exhaustively its subject matter.

Interestingly, after reading it I feel like Norwegian black metal, for all its foul headlines and far-right sympathies, is mostly a negligible social and musical movement. The short-lived work of young adults with an inferiority complex (towards the Swedish death metal scene of the time, and possibly middle class in general) who decided that their limitations were actually sources of pride. It is no surprise that the only Norwegian black metal records I listen to (Immortal’s At the Heart of Winter and The Kovenant’s Animatronics and SETI) are not really Norwegian black metal, having outgrown the genre with decent production or interesting arrangements – a trend that this book explains well.

In any case, Un feu dans le ciel nordique is a pretty solid study; it touches upon the social, historical, and musical aspects of a niche genre, and doesn’t shy away from its uncomfortable (or, I’d say, pathetic) parts. I learned quite a bit, including the fact that I don’t really need to invest time in exploring this musical style any further.

Kill the dead (Tanith Lee, 1980)

Tanith Lee is easily one of my favorite writers, in any genre (and she did write in a lot of different genres). I’ve read this one several times, but this time I read it in English.

It is as good a story as I remembered, with little action but no boring moment, and a great final twist. However, for the first time, I felt like Lee was maybe a bit too clever for her own writing. Her irony, as well as her stylistic flourishes sometimes distracted me from the story. Parl Dro, the protagonist, definitely deserves to be witty and sharp, like the iconic hero that he is, but too much breaks the spell a bit. There’s a reason why you don’t hear Sergio Leone crack jokes behind the camera when the man with no name is on screen. Still, it’s a great novel, very well written. Tanith Lee really knew how to build characters, scenes, and stories.

Programming Ruby, 5th edition (Noel Rappin with Dave Thomas, 2023)

The infamous pickaxe is not exactly a thrilling read, but I never tire of going through new editions. This one is a good as the others, exhaustive but accessible. I like the polite reservations that Rappin expresses towards some of the new features of Ruby, such as type annotations, but that’s probably because I share his doubts.

Still, next time I’ll wait until the final version before reading the next edition – playing spot the difference with each beta release felt a bit like a waste of time.