April 2004
© 2004 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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Exploring the Matrix: Visions of the Cyber Present by Karen Haber
Griffin Trade Trade: ISBN 0312313594 PubDate: 05/01/03
Review by Edward Carmien

292 pgs. List price $ 14.95
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Every so often a book crosses one’s path and you want to rise up and shake the author or editor’s hand. This is just such a book. I’ve seen several Matrix-inspired texts. Exploring The Matrix is head and shoulders above the others.

Karen Haber has collected essays by 17 authors (including herself) ranging from Bruce Sterling to Mike Resnick to Joe Haldeman to David Brin to Alan Dean Foster—the list goes on. Haber’s handshake comes from her ability to both collect a masterful list of speculative fiction writers (no definition debates, please) and to assure everyone is on-topic.

The Matrix was jaw-droppingly effective as a film because it tapped into—something—deeply relevant to the contemporary cultural experience. It spoke to the current generation of film goers in a way few media artifacts do because it had something relevant to say about our lives, technology, spirituality—you’ve heard it all before.

These authors generally praise (Sterling’s “Every Other Movie is the Blue Pill”) (brilliant title, isn’t it?) and rarely shellac (as sci-fi or something closer to myth, Haldeman’s “The Matrix as Sci-Fi”) The Matrix. They do so with unimpeachable authority as professional writers using comfortable, accessible language (handshake for Haber again!) that is often witty and always engaging.

These reasonably short pieces, although 17 in number, don’t provide for a thick text, so this is an easy yet pithy read. Pat Cadigan provides an excellent frame for the text, defining in broad terms the importance of science fiction as an art form and explaining why the thoughts of 17 professional writers of fantastic fiction about The Matrix are important.

The physical text itself is disappointing—this work is of a quality to deserve a better treatment. Perhaps you should consider the hardcover, which came out in May of last year. This lightweight text is not built for the ages, and that’s too bad. In other news this text is sprinkled with illustrations by Darrel Anderson and Robert Zohrab. Some appear to be interesting—others appear to be little more than filler…but it is hard to say for sure, as the physical presentation leaves a lot of mud in many of the images, making it difficult to assess their quality.

As the DVD of the final film in the Matrix trilogy nears release, books like Exploring The Matrix become even more useful and relevant to our understanding of what the movies accomplished and what that accomplishment says about the films’ audience. Us. Haber’s crowning accomplishment (handshake!) is gathering these writers together under one roof and seeing to it they play and work well with each other. There are a variety of messages here, a variety of messages about the relevance of the films to our society, to our present, to our future—but they are all accessible and memorable in some way.

It is rare a text is able to serve both as popular grist for the reading mill and as the basis for an academic study. When it comes to The Matrix I recommend this text be snapped up by anyone with a yen to know more about what the Wachowski brothers have wrought and what that piece of magic means about its audience and the future that stalks us.

Have no doubt: the future hunts us each inexorable moment of each day, and it is trips down rabbit holes that keep us sane. Enjoy these 17 journeys, then enjoy The Matrix and its sequels again. Just remember, once you’ve journeyed, you can never go home again.

© 2004 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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