August 2009 Archives
August 27, 2009
I've been meaning to read Wastelands since it was first released. It inspired my Apocalypse Watch reading list, but unfortunately failed to materialise into my hands due to Amazon UK selling out repeatedly at inopportune moments (birthday and Christmas) and unfortunately ordering from Nightshade books directly in the UK is three times as expensive as Amazon. However it finally arrived a few months ago, and it was worth the wait. It's a truly excellent collection of apocalyptic stories, with a handful I really loved a lot, only a few I disliked, and everything else being quality stories that I liked a lot.
I highly recommended it. Here's a bit more detail on the individual stories.
Introduction - John Joseph Adams
A page and a bit setting the scene.
The End Of The Whole Mess - Stephen King
I haven't read any Stephen King, not being a fan of horror (although The Stand is sitting on my shelf). This story has a great readable style, with an interesting SF idea about changing the human mindset and some really touching moments. I tore through it an wanted more. Loved it.
Salvage - Orson Scott Card
A flooded Salt Lake City and a young man searching for something more. It has a nice apocalyptic setting and an easy style, with a surprisingly thoughtful ending. Liked it.
The People Of Sand And Slag - Paolo Bacigalupi
A crazy future with new style people who can fix themselves. Or something. They find a dog. It's bonkers and yucky. Liked it, but gross.
Bread And Bombs - M. Rickert
A touching, thoughtful, sad and very clever tale of what life could be like living in the shadow of constant fear of terrorism. It's a generational rift tale and great Science Fiction. Loved it.
How We Got Into Town and Out Again - Jonathan Lethem
Probably the most Mad Max setting of any of the stories, except with Virtual Reality. And no fighting. It's a bit of a rant against VR, but the apocalypticness raises it above the standard anti-tech rant. Liked it.
Dark, Dark Were The Tunnels - George R.R. Martin
This story was written in 1973, and it feels like. To me it seemed old fashioned, predictable and I felt like I'd seen it all before. I can't even imagine it being cutting edge three decades ago. Disliked it.
Waiting for the Zephyr - Tobias S. Buckell
A lovely atmospheric story set in a remote town. It's really the standard story of teenage rebellion and escape, but the setting is great and the story left me wanting more. Wind turbines, desert, teenage angst. Liked it.
Never Despair - Jack McDevitt
A couple of post apocalyptic explorers find an old Hologram in a dead city. Moody and atmospheric. Liked it.
When Sysadmins Ruled The Earth - Cory Doctorow
The end of the world viewed from Sysadmins in a locked in a data centre. The story gets better as it progresses and I loved the ending which is touching and hopeful. Liked it.
The Last of the O-Forms - James Van Pelt
A weird mutant circus in a world of increasing mutants. Oddly uncomfortable. Liked it.
Still Life with Apocalypse - Richard Kadrey
A nice description of apocalypse, but just a vignette. Liked it.
Artie's Angels - Catherine Wells
The story of Kid biker courier gang in dome that’s fending off an apocalyptic outside and losing population to a better offworld. Loved it.
Judgement Passed - Jerry Oltion
Religion, apocalypse, cliché. Space travellers return to find that the rapture has happened. Disliked it.
Mute - Gene Wolfe
A random dream like haze. Didn’t feel like there was any story. Hated it.
Inertia - Nancy Kress
A disfiguring disease results in ghettos and isolation. Touching with an interesting intellectual idea. Liked it.
And the Deep Blue Sea - Elizabeth Bear
Starts off as a cool cyberpunky take and turned into bad Crossroads story. Disliked it.
Speech Sounds - Octavia E. Butler
Probably the best SF idea in the collection: people have lost the power to speak or understand.Very clever with plenty of emotion. Liked it.
Killers - Carol Emshwiller
The story of hiding away from a terrorist style apocalypse in a mountain village. Discussing what it means to be the enemy. Liked it.
Ginny Sweethips' Flying Circus - Neal Barrett, Jr.
A Robot butler and woman selling fake sex in a Mad Max-ish future. Witty. Liked it.
The End Of The World As We Know It - Dale Bailey
A deconstruction of apocalypse stories. Clever, relevant and depressing. Loved it.
A Song Before Sunset - David Grigg
The story of a musician in a post-apocalyptic world. Sad piano man story. Liked it.
Episode Seven: Last Stand Against the Pack in the Kingdom of the Purple Flowers - John Lanagan
A response to Dale Bailey’s story. Two people flee for their lives across a dead city. Clever, exciting, touching, hopeful. Loved it.
For Further Reading - Big list of books. Of which I am working my way through!
August 25, 2009
Wireless is a short story collection by Charles Stross, with the cover having the subtitle “The Essential Collection”. I’ve found that I’ve really liked just over half of Stross’s novels that I’ve read, whilst the (just under) other half I feel remarkably indifferent about. I haven’t read any of The Merchant Prince series, but read all but Iron Sunrise of his other novels.
So, which side does Wireless fall?
I’ll review each story in turn.
Missile Gap is an alternative history Cold War story with a bit of twist and more Science Fiction than your average tweaked timeline story. The problem I have with historical stories is that history is not one of my strongest subjects (I dropped it as school as soon as I could!) and hence I continually feel that I’m missing the point/joke/clever twist. The story’s extra dollop of SF kept me interested for a while, but eventually I tired of waiting for the story to grab me. I’m sure if you analyse it it’s clever, and there are some classic SF references, but in the end I just didn’t care.
Rogue Farm is weirder than what I’ve come to associate with Stross. It’s the story of a couple defending their real farm against the amorphous blob like “Farms” that are trying to reach for the stars. After the Cold War story it was nice to have some warmer characters, and overall the story was okay, but a little forgettable. One of those stories that you read quickly, think about for a few minutes and then forget.
A Colder War is a proto Laundry story, think (the real) Cold War with Cthulhu.It’s a bit bleak and felt almost bureaucratic in tone. I didn’t like it much at all, nothing grabbed me and I was relieved to finish it.
Maxos is a quick story (might even be flash fiction length), with a quick and funny point. Short, enjoyable but nothing more.
Down On The Farm is a Laundry story, starring Bob Howard. Laundry fans will rejoice. However I’m beginning to tire of The Laundry. I really enjoyed The Attrocity Archives, but felt The Jennifer Morgue was just competent. None of the other stories in the Laundry-verse have appealed to me much, I feel it’s a one joke setting and I know the joke now. So we get Bob Howard in another nasty magical/maths situation and we get to watch him wriggle out.
Unwirer was co-written by Cory Doctorow and is my favourite story in the collection. It’s set in a USA where internet usage is illegal and “rogue” elements try to wire up point-to-point wireless networks to provide people with net access. I didn’t realise it was alternative history until I was into the story a little way. There’s a likeable hero, doing something worthwhile, and I found the story pulled me along whilst making me care about the characters.
Snowball’s Chance is a variation on the old Devil meets a person story, except this time the person is Scottish and you have to read their dialogue pretending you’re Billy Connolly (unless you’re actually Scottish I presume). Nothing appealed to me about this story, it felt like a long joke that I didn’t find funny.
Trunk And Disorderly is a SF tribute to Jeeves and Wooster, with robots and cyborgs and empires. Much of it’s success depends on whether you find it funny. I didn’t. There’s a reasonable action plot buried amidst the innuendos but the setting and characters put me off almost immediately. In the comments about the story Stross says that it ended up as a trial run for Saturn’s Children. I think Saturn’s Children is better, and I wasn’t amazed by that.
Palimpset is a clever story about a time agent, a member of the Stasis who look to preserve the future of the planet. It manages the difficult trick of combining a personable hero and story with a super long view of Earth and humanity. Very clever, intriguing and aiming for, but not quite reaching, for Primer levels of time travelling mind messing.
It’s interesting to note that a lot of my descriptions talk about how I felt when reading the story. Undoubtedly there are some interesting intellectual exercises in these stories, and maybe at another time I may have enjoyed that, however right now I needed something more emotional to grab me and that seemed to be lacking from many of these stories.
And in fact, if I felt like an intellectual exercise, I should read Accelerando again. Which may be the heart of the problem for me with Stross’s work: the first story I read of his was Lobster, followed by the rest of Accelerando. And whilst Accelerando is not the greatest novel it’s a quite amazing set of short stories. Something that will take a lot of topping.
In the end Wireless feels less like an essential collection and more like a diverse collection of stories trying to show that Stross can write more that just Singularity stories. Odds and ends even.
August 19, 2009
I’m trying to decide what to read next as I’ve finally finished Wireless by Charles Stross (it wasn’t as bad as that sounds it’s just that I’ve been reading less recently).
I’m currently reading (and enjoying) Cory Doctorow's Makers but I can that fit that in alongside something else due to the wonders of serialisation.
On the immediate to read pile (that’s the prioritised version of the full pile) is:
- Against The Day by Thomas Pynchon
- The Stand by Stephen King
- The Mammoth Book Of Best New SF 21 edited by Gardner Dozois
- Astropolis Book 3: The Grand Conjunction by Sean Williams
- The Burning Skies by David J. Williams
- The Knife Of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
I fancy reading something not too long, that I will instantly love and devour rapidly. That rules out Pynchon and King as they’re both MASSIVE. Best New SF is also massive, but I could just read a few stories. The Grand Conjunction and The Burning Skies are both review copies that were kindly sent to me by Orbit and David so I really should to read them (and besides I need to give David another chance to win me over), but both are sequels and I’m not sure I feel like a sequel. Which leaves The Knife Of Never Letting Go?
I’m also considering joining Niall’s Short Story Club which I really should commit to as it will be fun and Niall’s done the hard part of picking the stories. Scared of the commitment maybe? :-)
Of course I could go and read the archives on Futurismic or Strange Horizons, but I feel like reading a novel and I feel like it being un-attached to my computer (nope, still have no portable web reading device).
Just for the record my outstanding reviews are now:
- Wastelands edited by John Joseph Adams
- Wireless by Charles Stross
Both of which I’ll try and write soon.
Snowblind is an indie SF film set in a parallel universe where a new ice age hit earth in the middle of the 20th century, which is of course the ideal plot device to enable cowboys with machine guns in the snow. It’s all shot using green-screen so it has a graphic novel unreal quality to it, but looks pretty slick. The trailer is more western and action film than SF but as usual I like mentioning independent film makers and seeing what they can do these days. The trailer is embedded below:
August 18, 2009
Season two of Dollhouse will be shown on the UK SCI FI Channel, starting on Tuesday 20 October at 10pm, with a double-bill of the first two episodes, then at 10pm every Tuesday. So that’s about a month behind the US schedule. Shame. That’s a long time to avoid spoilers on the interweb.
The SCI FI Channel is only available to Satellite and Cable viewers, so not sure if it will ever be broadcast on Freeview.
Season one of Dollhouse is released on DVD in the UK on 7th September.
August 17, 2009
Apparently the WSFS Constitution says that the awards are for Science Fiction or Fantasy.
Right there in section 3.2.1.
They were never even intended to be Science Fiction only, despite their early name. Or there was no such thing as Fantasy then but they meant Fantasy as well. Or Wikipedia is incorrect. Or all of the above.
Amazingly though, my initial statement of “I thought the Hugo awards were for Science Fiction?” is still factually correct, because when I wrote it I was unaware of section 3.2.1 (or indeed the entire WSFS Constitution).
I’m also accused(!) of deleting comments I don’t like, however in this case I was in fact just guilty of not checking my blog for a few days and approving the pending comments.
And I still wanted Anathem to win. (That doesn’t make people angry does it?)
August 15, 2009
Steambot Studios have created an SF Art book called Exodyssey, you can some of their awesome artwork at their site (I can’t link directly to the gallery because the site is all Flash).
So it’s an art book about a story that’s a game. Or something. Not entirely sure.
August 14, 2009
File under WHAT?!
The rumours are that Bryan Singer is going to make a movie version of Battlestar Galactica that is completely unrelated to either of the two TV series.
Although the movie currently has no script.
It would seem a slightly insane idea.
More importantly however, will the Cylons be sexy?
August 13, 2009
The Star Wars shop has some cool hoodies, for example the Bobba Fett one:
But also some slightly scary full face mask ones:
Not sure what the visibility is like out of those!
August 12, 2009
According to The Times :
Iain Banks’s latest novel, Transition, is to become the first newly published book to be serialised internationally on iTunes.
Publisher Little, Brown Book Group has agreed a deal with Apple to make an abridged audio version of the novel available as a free podcast.
The first podcast will go live on September 3 when the novel is published. A further 22 episodes, each 15 minutes long, will be released on iTunes in Britain and America every Thursday and Saturday for 12 weeks.
Not sure what “on iTunes” means. If it’s a podcast then won’t it be available elsewhere? Or will you have to “buy” it for free on iTunes and download it?
Either way it seems that novel serialisation is alive and kicking.
From the start Moon is stylish Science Fiction; the opening credits are adhered to surfaces of the Moon base, which Sam Bell works alone on, glowing or looking solid and part of the walls. It's a minor point, but it shows that the film makers were thinking about style a lot, and it's evident from all of the sets which have that super-cool retro-futuristic look to them, part 2001, part Space 1999, part Alien, part Silent running. The fonts are groovy, the logos are groovy, everything looks awesomely cool. The model work on the surface of the Moon away from the base looks less spectacular, but the deficiencies due to budget are made up with by the bleak grey loneliness and the hulking machinery. Contrasting that is the increasing grubbiness of the main character, his space suit, his cluttered living area. Wonderful design.
All of which would be no good if the story was rubbish. Fortunately the story is great. Unfortunately I can't really talk about it without spoiling the plot. However I can say that it's the story of a man, Sam Bell, played by Sam Rockwell, working a solitary three year shift on a Moon base, mining Helium 3 to power the Earth's (presumably) fusion power stations. His only company is a computer, Gerty, voiced by Kevin Spacey. The computer has a physical manifestation as a robot body, with two separate arms, the robot body using a simple screen and smiley faces to communicate. It's very obviously a homage to HAL, but it's done in a wonderful way: the lens eye is white, the robot is battered, post it notes are attached to the robot, one saying "Kick me".
The story itself also handles a common Science Fiction trope, but does it in a way that still feels lively and worthwhile, leaving plenty to discuss afterwards: maybe there were plot loopholes, maybe there were alternative explanations. It's a film that doesn't force feed you exposition but leaves room for you to make your own mind up. Try not to find out anything about the plot before you go, it will be more fun.
The acting is brilliant, Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey are perfect. The directing is good too, from the slow still scenes to the brief black fade outs between scenes. A great job by Duncan Jones in his first film, with a low budget. And he also wrote the story.
All in all a really great film, and one that will especially reward Science Fiction fans versed in those classic SF films mentioned before. Maybe it will introduce a new generation of fans to those films. Maybe Moon will, in time, take its place alongside those films in the "classic" list. Don't know yet, but you should go and see it.
August 11, 2009
I really enjoy Paul Di Filippo’s review column in the Barnes & Noble Review. He seems to review books that I really should read, but somehow haven’t quite yet.
The latest columns reviews the latest novels by John Shirley (Bleak History), Rudy Rucker (Hylozoic) and Bruce Sterling (The Caryatids) and talks about their influence on cyberpunk and how they’ve changed as writers. And does it with some style…
Warmhearted, big-spirited, grimly humorous, cynical yet hopeful, resembling Ursula LeGuin's famous "Nine Lives" retooled into a rap song by M.I.A., then condensed into a Twitter feed to amuse Somali pirates, Sterling's newest proves that when a cyberpunk is once truly plugged into the zeitgeist, the mere passage of twenty-five years does nothing to degrade his performance, relevance or wisdom.
I thought the Hugo awards were for Science Fiction?
Here’s the Hugo Winners for 2009 via www.thehugoawards.org :
- Best Novel: The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins; Bloomsbury UK)
- Best Novella: “The Erdmann Nexus”, Nancy Kress (Asimov’s Oct/Nov 2008)
- Best Novelette: “Shoggoths in Bloom”, Elizabeth Bear (Asimov’s Mar 2008)
- Best Short Story: “Exhalation”, Ted Chiang (Eclipse Two)
- Best Related Book: Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: A Decade of Whatever, 1998-2008, John Scalzi (Subterranean Press)
- Best Graphic Story: Girl Genius, Volume 8: Agatha Heterodyne and the Chapel of Bones, Written by Kaja & Phil Foglio, art by Phil Foglio, colors by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
- Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: WALL-E Andrew Stanton & Pete Docter, story; Andrew Stanton & Jim Reardon, screenplay; Andrew Stanton, director (Pixar/Walt Disney)
- Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Joss Whedon, & Zack Whedon, & Jed Whedon, & Maurissa Tancharoen, writers; Joss Whedon, director (Mutant Enemy)
- Best Editor Short Form: Ellen Datlow
- Best Editor Long Form: David G. Hartwell
- Best Professional Artist: Donato Giancola
- Best Semiprozine: Weird Tales, edited by Ann VanderMeer & Stephen H. Segal
- Best Fan Writer: Cheryl Morgan
- Best Fanzine: Electric Velocipede edited by John Klima
- Best Fan Artist: Frank Wu
And the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (presented by Dell Magazines): David Anthony Durham
I like Neil Gaiman, I like his books, I’ve heard him read the first chapter of The Graveyard Book and I liked that too. But it’s not Science Fiction is it? Anathem should have been the winner here. But then you look at the number of votes and it’s only 477 versus 357. That’s not very many really is it?
Everyone seems to love Exhalation, but I thought it was okay, I haven’t read the other stories yet so I can’t really comment on if it’s the best of the short list.
I’m happy that WALL-E and Doctor Horrible won, because both are awesome and brilliant and close to genius. Surprisingly though the Lost episode got very few votes despite it being great, however Lost really succeeds with its ongoing story rather than an isolated episode.
Other surprises: Locus didn’t win and Electric Velocipede is a fanzine.
Overall I think the shortlists were more interesting than the winners.
August 10, 2009
August 9, 2009
Utilizing dry EEG sensor technology, the headset reads and interprets your brainwaves. The deeper your concentration and mental focus, the greater your ability to move the Training Sphere up or down the Training Tower. Progress from Padawan to Jedi Master as you master the use of "The Force" through 15 levels of training.
August 8, 2009
August 7, 2009
Threadless is having a sale and has reprinted a load of cool T-Shirts. I took the opportunity to buy some new T-Shirts: Literacy! Robots! Magic!
August 6, 2009
If you’re a writer or and artist or just someone who wants to make/do something you really need to read Merlin Mann’s latest post on 43 Folders, entitled Fake Rocks, Salami Commanders, and Just Enough to Start:
Your Lizard Brain is absolutely right when it tells you that most people won’t notice if you don’t make something, and that a lot of people won’t particularly care if you do. But, how you choose to respond to that existential kōan will say a lot about your potential as both an artist and as an engaged human.
Go and read it. I’m going to read it again right now.
August 3, 2009
August 2, 2009
Scientists fear a revolt killer robots, reports The Sunday Times. Stop me if you’ve heard this before somewhere…
At the conference, held behind closed doors in Monterey Bay, California, leading researchers warned that mankind might lose control over computer-based systems that carry out a growing share of society’s workload, from waging war to chatting on the phone, and have already reached a level of indestructibility comparable with a cockroach.
Killer roombas! Coffee machines making dreadful coffee! Cars driving inefficiently! Oh and SKYNET, nukes and Terminators.
The scientists who presented their findings at the International Joint Conference for Artificial Intelligence in Pasadena, California, last month fear that nightmare scenarios, which have until now been limited to science fiction films, such as the Terminator series, The Matrix, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Minority Report, could come true.