Archive: November 28th, 2006

Fact eats fiction

In need of an entertaining read, I recently picked up the book Wolves Eat Dogs by Martin Cruz-Smith (of Gorky Park fame). I enjoyed it far more than I anticipated.

I’m not a huge fan of crime fiction, although I have read plenty of Hammett and Chandler in my time. But there was something about Cruz-Smith’s book that I found very appealing.

Halfway through reading the book, I figured out what it was: Wolves Eat Dogs is a novel. It happens to be set in present-day reality but the plot reads like a science-fiction story. For the most part, the book is set in the post-apocolyptic landscape of Prypiat, near Chernobyl. This post-apocolyptic scenario just happens to be real.

The protagonist, Arkady Renko, is sent to this frightening hellish place following a somewhat far-fetched murder in Moscow. Killing someone with a minute dose of a highly radioactive material just didn’t seem like a very realistic assassination to me.

Then I saw the news about Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian spy who died this week, quite probably murdered with a dose of polonium-210.

Truly, as William Gibson said:

The future is here. It’s just not widely distributed yet.

The cyberpunkish quality of Wolves Eat Dogs prompted to go back and revisit some of Gibson’s work. I re-read Virtual Light (possibly the only science-fiction to name check Brighton’s pier).

It’s interesting charting the inverse relationship of Gibson’s projected timelines with his dates of publication. Neuromancer, his first novel, is set in a relatively far future. His newest novel, the equally superb Pattern Recognition, is set in the present. At this rate, he’ll end up writing historical fiction. Mind you, he’ll have a tough time competing with Neal Stephenson in that genre.

Vitual Light was originally published in 1993. It’s especially interesting to read again now because the story is set in a projected future of California in 2005. I had to smile at this descriptive passage in chapter eleven (emphasis mine):

Allied’s best-looking thing on two wheels, no contest whatever, DuPree was six-two of ebon electricity poured over a frame of such elegance and strength that Chevette imagined his bones as polished metal, triple-chromed, a quicksilver armature. Like those old movies with that big guy, the one who went into politics, after he’d got the meat ripped off him.

Who could have predicted that “that big guy” would be governor of the state in 2005?

Truth really is stranger than fiction.

Resolution vs. browser size vs. fixed or adaptive width | 456 Berea Street

Roger hits the nail on the head: "fixed widths are used for the wrong reason - designer vanity. Come on, you’re designing for the Web, which means it’s your job to let things be flexible when you can."