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Archive for December, 2006

Larry Niven – “How the Heroes Die;” “At the Core;” “A Relic of the Empire”

Posted by Mike on December 21, 2006

I’m reading Niven’s Known Space series in order, or at least I am excepting the novel Ringworld, which I’ve already read. Most of these stories are very old school space opera types bolstered by a scientific idea, usually featuring a solo male protagonist who is running from the law or someone else. Unsurprisingly the general trend of these stories (all published in late 1966)  is to the better writing, although having read similar future histories with Kress and Watts lately, a lot of these ideas strike me as being dated, the unfortunate side effect of progress. Not flipping over them exactly, but am learning a little more about the universe Ringworld was set in.

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What Science Fiction Writer are you?

Posted by Mike on December 21, 2006

I am:

Alfred Bester

A pyrotechnic talent who put only a small portion of his energy into writing.

Which science fiction writer are you?

Posted in Books, Uncategorized, Writers | 3 Comments »

Peter Watts – Blindsight

Posted by Mike on December 20, 2006

A few days ago, I linked to the on-line Creative Commons version of this very new book. I’d like to add this link, Watt’s blog, where the story of how this book came out and what happened to it during the promotional phase is laid out.

It’s a bit hard to start talking about it without hurling hyperbole all over the place. It’s not flawless, but it’s about as close as one gets these days. The prose is snapping, the characters unique, bizarre and well-drawn, the science cutting edge and the takes on the well known “first contact” novel incredibly different from what I’ve read before.

The premise is that aliens show up in a display above the world’s atmosphere, apparently surveying the planet and then burning out. While you (fortunately) don’t get a lot of the development from this event to the part of the main story where 5 “posthumans” are sent to discover a related alien artifact, what you do get is the development of the first-person narrator, and through him you discover the world of the future, where many people have downloaded themselves into a virtual “Heaven.” It’s an interesting device, as Siri Keeton, our narrator has had an unusual surgery that makes him quite a bit different from the normal human, a difference not only fascinating in itself but integral to the plot.

Keeton is part of a crew made up of four different personalities (one of which has four different personalities crammed into one), all of which are described in the blurb on the side flap of the book. All of them bring different perspectives to the table, but the most fascinating character is the mission’s leader, a vampire named Jukka Sarasti. This is not your typical vampire by any means, there’s a nice explanation in the back of the book that explains the science behind the idea, but it’s made clear the rest of the crew is afraid of the predator, and that he’s also far more evolved than the rest of the crew, understanding what is going on often in advance of everyone else.

The set up is less interesting than how the plot unfolds and it’s really the science that makes it breathe (I found myself susprised that during the well-written final action scenes that I was actually missing the science speak). As the crew encounters the alien artifact way outside the solar system, it begins to realize that everyone is way over their heads. The aliens are actually very alien and it’s through this device that you actually learn way more about the crew than the aliens itself, through their inability to really understand what is going on around them (all apart from Sarasti who is always ahead of the game). The crew’s encounters start to change their understanding of the nature of consciousness, realizing that their brains, unfamiliar with most of the input, aren’t actually relating what is going on.

What I found fascinating is how much of this dovetails with a lot of hermetic ideas, particularly the ideas brought up that talk about we don’t really have a free will, that we’re basically automatons in a way. While hermetic science goes on to describe a program that seeks to bump the human being out of its comfort zone and to learn about the various brain sections/souls/spheres/what have you, Watts uses the idea to set up a fascinating what if that deals with potential evolutionary paths, and shock, that human sentience may not necessarily be to its advantage.

I’m not sure too much about the ending, it seemed like a LOT happened on the last page that was a bit confusing, but little of it relates to the smaller story and thus didn’t distract me too much from what was a brilliantly gripping denouement. It all came together nicely: ideas, plot, characters and climax and most importantly lived up to the considerable hype being tossed around.

Given that the first printing was, what, 3500 copies?, I’d suggest that, especially if Tor doesn’t do a second printing, that the resulting hype and small printing size will likely make this something of a collector’s item. But fortunately you can make your mind up on your own on this one and check out the book on line. It’s a pretty important novel, I think, if not a classic, certainly what I’d call a “12” over at Gnosis. Definitely the best SF book I’ve read in a few years, and the best novel I’ve read since Whittemore’s Quin’s Shanghai Circus.

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Nancy Kress – Probability Space +

Posted by Mike on December 19, 2006

I had wanted to finish reading Peter Watts’ Blindsight over the weekend, and would have but I got the bug to do some short story reading instead. More on that in a sec.

I did finish Kress’ Probability trilogy and enjoyed the whole thing even I think that Probability Space was the weakest of the three (and it’s the John W. Campbell award winner in the bunch). It seems to me while the whole series is steeped in quantum physics, the plot of the series sort of diverges from being intertwined with it like in the early stages of the series. In the final book there are two separate story lines, one of them, even if it does tie in at the very end, has not so much bearing on the whole story except to provide the reasoning for how the characters in the more important thread manage to avoid certain consequences. In fact, this latter thread, the one that deals with the implacable human enemy knows as the Fallers, is by far the most interesting, the thread amongst the three books that kept me highly motivated to keep reading. In fact the Kress trilogy is somewhat similar to Blindsight in that both postulate alien races that are more than just humans who speak a different language. Anyway that’s about all I can say about the third book without giving away a lot of the series.

I spent my weekend reading sharing time between more of J. G. Ballard’s tremendous Vermilion Sands stories, moving forward some in Larry Niven’s Known Space universe (and fortunately the stories are getting a lot better), and reading a few in Michael Swanwick’s Tales from Old Earth. Will talk about these more later…

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Peter Watts “Blindsight” on line

Posted by Mike on December 15, 2006

http://www.rifters.com/real/Blindsight.htm

Blindsight is probably the most hyped Science Fiction book of 2006 (google it and you’ll see several people marking it for awards next year) and it has already been put on line under the Creative Commons License at the above link. I want to bring this to people’s attention as I’m a little over half way through (the hard copy) and thinking this is a book that lives up to all this considerable hype. I’ll, of course, talk about it when I’m finished (probably will post a review by early next week), but I’ve got to say that it’s already one of the most powerful hard science fiction novels I’ve had the pleasure of reading. The ideas are multitude and gigantic, the characters unique to the genre, the prose absolutely scintillating in the way it draws pictures of alien technology, and the story line utterly fascinating. I’d of course suggest people just go get the book, but on this one you can now see for yourself. I am counting myself very lucky at how many really good books I’ve been reading lately.

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Convert…

Posted by Mike on December 13, 2006

or die.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Book Received; Nancy Kress – Probability Sun, Aldiss/Harrison ed. – Nebula Awards 2

Posted by Mike on December 12, 2006

  • Isaac Asimov – The Hugo Winners Vol. 3, Book 1

I guess I can’t really say a whole lot about Probability Sun, being that its the second book in a trilogy and I’m halfway through book three as I write this. I wouldn’t call the trilogy linear exactly in that there are years between the events of each book, but the story and characters do crossover and the events of one book affect the outcome of the later ones. Anyway they’ve all been great fun, Kress knows how to dripfeed the mysterious aspects of the story at a perfect rate. I suspect I’ll be done by the weekend.

The second in the long Nebula Awards series was a typical mix, I’d already read Vance’s “The Last Castle,” a brilliant work, so that took out the largest story. Somehow I don’t remember the initial stories (including McKenna’s Nebula winning short story), but I was particularly impressed with PKD’s “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale,” which was the inspiration for the movie Total Recall, and in fact reminded me a lot of the beginning of the movie, except that Dick’s short was far more interesting and tighter (the movie diverges into a totally different story after the first 20 minutes or so). I also remember liking Dickson’s “Call Him Lord” which reminds me of his Dorsai books with its interest in class differences.

I tried putting away the Kress books over the weekend and read some other things, stuff I’ll report on later. Finished John Morressy’s “A Voice for Princess,” the first of the Kedrigern novels, rather light but amusing fare. In beginning Nebula Awards 3, I realized that I was about to start one of the last Vermilion Sands stories by J. G. Ballard. Having just grabbed his complete short stories, I’ve been starting to go through those chronologically and am liking them a LOT more than I remember liking his two early disaster novels A Wind from Nowhere and The Drowned World. Gloriously colorful and surreal, almost psychedelic and not as dystopian as I’m used to. Also am continuing to really enjoy Jon Courtenary Grimwood’s Pashazade, which will likely be the series I follow more closely when I’m done with Kress. A lot of fun being absorbed in such excellent reading.

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What I’m Watching Update

Posted by Mike on December 6, 2006

I wrote a post a little while back about what I’m keeping up with on TV. It’s here:

http://mikesprattle.wordpress.com/2006/10/20/what-im-watching/

This is my update, now that most of the shows have finished their initial run or close.

Monday

No real change on Heroes, which is a mix of a lot of good and bad things. I find the acting to be pretty terrible for the most part, although they’re adding Christopher Eccleston (Doctor Who #9) to the cast starting in January which ought to bring that up quite a bit. Apparently they’re also adding George Takei (Sulu) as Hiro’s father. This show is doing well enough that cancellation isn’t on the horizon and there’s some interesting ideas, including supervillain Silar who brings an intense level of darkness to the show.

Heroes, NBC, 9 PM, B-

Tuesday

I haven’t managed to keep up with Veronica Mars over the last few weeks but should catch up over the holidays, I’m hearing the first run ended on a high note including drawing in a crowd that might, if it keeps up, prevent the show from being cancelled. Friday Night Lights is still the best new show of the season, although last night’s ep was perhaps a bit under par. Excellent acting and realism keeps the interest high.

Friday Night Lights, NBC, Monday, 10 PM, A-
Veronica Mars, CW, Tuesday, 9 PM, incomplete

Wednesday

They’re moving Lost to 10 PM starting next year, which basically pushes me off the fence into not caring. It’s a show whose cast has gotten so gigantic and unwieldy that months go by before parts of the stories are returned to. At least if I hear the rest of S3 picks up again, I can catch the DVD. For now, moving it next to South Park kills it for me (and SP’s initial Season 10 run was probably the best in a few years). The good news on Wednesday night is Jericho, which seems to be steadily improving. Some lumps still need to be ironed out, but this is probably the second best new show this year after FNL and well worth watching. 

Jericho, CBS, 7 PM, B+
Lost, ABC, 9 PM, D
South Park, Comedy Central, 10 PM, B+

Thursday

Smallville will probably always be that show at the bottom of the pile for me, a fun watch but not one I feel religious about, it’s so full of cheese and silliness it can be offputting at times. 30 Rock has moved to Thursdays and I feel about the same for both it and the Office, neither are perfect but provide occasional big laughs. 

Smallville, CW, 8 PM, C-
The Office, NBC 8:30 PM, B-
30 Rock, NC 9:30 PM, B

Friday

I feel terrible BSG is moving to Sunday nights at 10 PM, as I’m generally fast asleep by then, so this will be a delayed watch for me. It’s a shame because it’s still an amazing piece of work, with everything across the board working. Last Friday’s episode was a wonderful mix of dark emotions and finally a sort of resolution for an ongoing thread. Doctor Who is about to go into Season 2’s worst stretch (all of which I’ve already seen) so at this point I may just be checking out BSG for the duration. 

Heroes (repeat), 7 PM, Sci-Fi
Doctor Who (US airing), 8 PM, Sci-Fi, B
Battlestar Galactica, 9 PM, Sci-Fi, A- (overall A)

Posted in TV | 3 Comments »

Unsurprising quiz result

Posted by Mike on December 4, 2006

You scored as C.G. Jung. You are more of a spiritualist than would be immediately apparent. Some of your notions are questioned by the cynical, but deep down you know the human consciousness is more than the flesh and tissue can account for. You tend to take a scientific observationist look on matters the average person wouldn’t even begin to analyze. You personally are responsible for most of the ideas that are floating around in modern psychologist’s/psychic’s paltry little skulls. On the down side, you tend to be associated with that asshole Freud.

C.G. Jung

100%

Friedrich Nietzsche

75%

Stephen Hawking

50%

Sigmund Freud

50%

Dante Alighieri

42%

Mother Teresa

33%

Hugh Hefner

33%

Jesus Christ

33%

Miyamoto Musashi

33%

Adolf Hitler

25%

O.J. Simpson

25%

Charles Manson

17%

Steven Morrissey

17%

Elvis Presley

17%

What Pseudo Historical Figure Best Suits You?
created with QuizFarm.com

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The Bible – The New Revised Lego Version

Posted by Mike on December 4, 2006

The Brick Testament

Edit: this whole site is amazing, but this one really cracks me up.

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