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Copyright

Title: Exploring the Matrix
Editor: Karen Haber
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Copyright: 2003
ISBN: 0312313586
Pages: 270
Price: $24.95
Rating: 89%

When you combine a redeemer myth, astonishing sets and costumes, and a struggle against oppression with what may well be the best action and fight sequences in a Western movie, you're bound to have a hit on your hands. And when the screenwriters borrow heavily from contemporary social criticism, there's at least one book in the making.

Exploring the Matrix is a collection of essays from science fiction authors, most of whom are associated with the cyberpunk movement, a movement brought into the spotlight by the spectacular success of William Gibson's Neuromancer. After an introduction by Pat Cadigan, Bruce Sterling argues that the freedom fighters in The Matrix, portrayed by Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Laurence Fishburn (opposed by Hugo Weaving's brilliantly evil Agent), are the epitome of cyberpunk heroes. They are masters of illusion, not criminals or terrorists, who use the power of the Matrix against their oppressors. Just as Star Wars combines the best elements of westerns into a space opera, The Matrix combines the best elements of cyberpunk science fiction into a single work.

The essays take on The Matrix from a number of perspectives, including overviews of the argument that we're already living in a simulation, literary and film influences on The Matrix, how the movie stacks up as an example of science fiction, and an entertaining argument that The Matrix, and in fact most science fiction, is actually anti-science.

My favorite essay in Exploring the Matrix is Walter Jon Williams' "Yuen-Woo Ping and the Art of Flying", which casts The Matrix as a movie influenced by the Hong Kong action film genre. Williams goes into terrific detail when recounting the history of the genre, tracing the path of performers and directors from their time in the Peking Opera to the present day. I'm not that much of a Hong Kong movie buff, but I loved reading Williams' essay and will try to watch some of the movies he mentioned as being worthwhile.

Also, while I'm not a huge fan of Keanu Reeves' acting style, I do admire his dedication to the intense kung fu training he went through despite having had neck surgery. Shooting a movie is tough, but shooting a physically demanding movie after undergoing six months of training after neck surgery earns him very high marks in my book.

Overall, Exploring the Matrix is a terrific book. While there is some unavoidable duplication among the essays' coverage, the differing perspectives and references to interesting arguments that inform contemporary social criticism and science fiction make the book well worth your while.

Curtis D. Frye (cfrye@teleport.com) is the editor and chief reviewer of Technology and Society Book Reviews.  He is also the author of three online courses and ten books , including Privacy-Enhanced Business from Quorum Books.