Monday, March 20, 2017

Seven Surrenders

As I mentioned last time, I was greatly looking forward to "Seven Surrenders" by Ada Palmer, 2017, 366 pages, the sequel to her "Too Like The Lightning, blogged here. I finished reading it yesterday, and it did not disappoint.

There have been several long articles on these books, 4 in the Crooked Timber blog by 4 different authors and 1 at

The writing is as dense as it is in the 1st book of this series. The main plot thread from the 1st book becomes intertwined with 2 other plot threads. All are mostly resolved by the end, along with out 2 potentially messianic characters. I don't remember a book that ended like this one does: after lots of action, there is a very long expository chapter on the effect the action will have on each of the 7 hives of the story.

I will go and put a "Spoiler Alert" in here. I don't think the spoilers are very bad, but I do want to mention some specifics from the novel.

*********************** SPOILER ALERT ***********************
So the main plot thread is the outing of a system by which strategic assassinations have been used to maintain peace, and further the interests of 3 of the hives, for 250 years. The last wars 250 years ago were the Church Wars. At the conclusion of these wars organized religion was banned, and as the worst religions practiced suppression of women, gender discrimination, in the broadest sense of the word, was also banned. But, humanity was not ready for the elimination of gender.

The 1st new plot thread that gets added in is one family's attempt to convince the world that war will be coming - that humanity is still too immature for permanent peace. The 2nd new plot thread involves the mother of one of our messiah possibilities running a brothel with both religion and gender which she uses to ensnare the leaders of 6 of the 7 hives. This character, Madame, seemed to me to be the historian Dr. Palmer herself, who apparently is a big fan of the 18th century. In chapter 20 (of 22) as she is explaining her plan, she gives a long declamation. Here's some:

The Eighteenth-Century aristocracy seduced, betrayed, and corrupted itself until its world self-destructed into revolution. I didn’t have to destroy you, Cornel. I just turned all of you into Eighteenth-Century aristocrats and let you do it yourselves.


I love the Eighteenth Century. I fell in love reading about it at Senseminary, that great moment when humanity realized experiments didn’t just have to be done with sciences, they could be done with morals and religion, too. I wanted to do that, run an experiment like the American Experiment, or greater. I couldn’t resist the chance to finish what my heroes started, not just the humanitarians like the Patriarch and the romantics like Jean-Jacques, but the underbelly, La Mettrie, Diderot, de Sade. The Enlightenment tried to remake society in Reason’s image: rational laws, rational religion; but the ones who really thought it through realized morality itself was just as artificial as the aristocracies and theocracies they were sweeping away.

The Enlightment was indeed a great time in human history, but I want us to keep looking forward, forward.

Dr. Palmer's future world is one of the most interesting in Science Fiction in quite a while. Her attention to gender issues point out the changing times we live in now, and I think raise issues about the extent to which gender stereotypes can be eliminated. Lots of interesting thoughts.

Minor complaints. 1st, I found myself being repelled by the notion which lot of the characters seem to buy into, that there is a monotheistic-type god for every universe. I don't really want to spend much effort, if any, examining my own antitheism.

There was also a small swipe at science I noticed, after engineers reverse an opinion in the face of new data (how science works). A little sniping from the Liberal Arts side of the university, perhaps? I'm sure that Dr. Palmer is too educated to not have a better understanding of the Scientific Method than this. [snark]Or should we generally be distrustful of science fiction and world-building done by a liberal arts type?[/snark]

Oh, miraculous chameleon, Science, who can reverse your doctrine hourly and never shake our faith! What cult ever battered by this world of doubt can help but envy you?
So many other books to read, but this series will definitely get a reread when all 4 are out.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Plan Execution Failure

I'm still in denial re the current political situation. I react to most posts about Trump with "Ha Ha". The man is deranged, and I would put the probability that he is a cokehead at 90%. Let's not investigate Trump's Russian ties and Russian interference in the election, let's investigate Obama's ordering wiretaps on Trump Tower! Anybody want to do an over/under bet on the number of congressional investigations into this nonexistent event with the over/under being 10? I mean, how many times did they investigate Benghazi? 13?

And they're not just trying to gut the EPA, which is a tragedy which will cause 10s of 1000s of deaths as pollution increases, but they're also trying to cut funding to other science based agencies. The NOAA? Really? Yeah, who uses the NWS (National Weather Service) anyway? Uh, everyone, maybe? Their solution to the climate crisis, the greatest challenge humanity has faced in its history, is to suppress the data to make it easier to pretend there's "nothing to see here". ARRGGGHHHH! I am thinking I will participate in a March for Science, which I think are supposed to happen April 22.

Meanwhile, 92% of Republicans approve of Trump's job performance as president. The traitor Mitch McConnell tries to normalize the behavior of this madman. I don't think you can underestimate the effect of the alternate reality broadcast in the Faux "News" echo chamber. Every time I go in the house of one of my elderly (80+ YO) neighbors in Florida Fox New is playing.

So my reading is still all escapism, all the time. The Plan was, I was going to switch over and read some short story collections.

1st up was "The Bread We Eat in Dreams" by Catherynne M. Valente, 2013, 344 pages. I thought her recent novel was a bit wordy for my taste, as I blogged here, so I was reading this first kind of to get it out of the way. I wound up being very pleasantly surprised. The stories are mostly fantasy with lots of deconstruction and metafictional elements. But the planes of unreality in which many of the stories take place are quite creative and interesting. I had read a couple of the stories before, probably in the Year's Best collections.

The 1st story, "The Consultant", is about a cheap detective who helps people figure out what story they are in. "nothing here but us archetypes" was a good line. [I recently read an article saying that the commonality of themes in folk tales is not Jungian archetypes, but rather reflects the fact that the stories predate many human migrations. So Jung is wrong yet again. I wish I'd saved that article, I tried to find it again but failed.]

Here's another good line, from the story "One Breath, One Stroke", which featured a wide variety of characters in many different ontological categories, one of whom was a Giant Hornet. Some of the other characters had started practicing Buddhism, but "The religion of the Giant Hornet is unknown."

The story "Twenty-Five Facts about Santa Claus" started a little disappointing but then got nicely zany.

Santa Claus actually met Jesus once, when they were both very young. ... they shared some wine and talked about what it was like to be folklorically dense nexus points."
"folklorically dense nexus points", nice!

Maybe the best metafictional story was "The Red Girl". The author is the narrator and is having an affair with Red Riding Hood partly to write a story about her, which is the story you are reading. Nice!

At one point when I was getting a little tired of the fantasy/ slipstream/ oddness, the next story was a very good straight up alternate history science fiction story "Fade to White", where the west coast of the US has been nuked and Joe McCarthy is president. Also straight up sci fi was the story, "Silently and Very Fast". It was a very well done look at the development of an artificial intelligence. A good point, how is a computer learning to imitate humans different from normal animal mimicry? "The little monkey copies the big monkey".

There were a few poems. I did not follow my rule that poetry must be read aloud. I sent a link to an interesting poem about Mickey Mouse, "Mouse Koan", to my daughter-in-law, who likes poetry and also is a big Disneyworld fan.

I had to look up lots of words in this book, which to me is a feature. I like to learn new words - although at my age I probably retain very few of them unless they have an easily recognizable root. A couple of examples: "nepheline", "limn". I think I will try to do a more complete job of annotating the words I have to look up and harvesting them for these reviews.

Next up, "Inside Straight", a Wild Cards book, 2008, 436 pages. The Wild Cards books are "science fiction superhero shared universe anthologies, mosaic novels, and solo novels written by a collection of thirty authors referred to as the Wild Cards Trust and edited by George R. R. Martin and Melinda M. Snodgrass." So it was not a short story collection, it was rather a novel written by many authors, 1 for each (or so) of the story's characters. The Plan takes a hit.

The 1st 12 of these came out 1987-1993. I think I read a lot of those. Then there were 3 published 1993-1995 by a different publisher, and 2 published in 2002 and 2006 by yet another publisher. Then the series was rebooted by Tor Books, who published 6 between 2008 and 2016 - "Inside Straight" is the 1st of these. I have read recently there are 4 more on the way (I subscribe to the excellent Tor Books blog) with new authors, some of whom I recognize and read (Saladin Ahmed, Max Gladstone).

The novel was an OK read. Some of the characters I recognized from the earlier books. A lot of it was centered on a reality/talent show "American Hero" - a genre of television to which I pay pretty much 0 attention - I'm not a fan. There was some real world drama that gradually became the focus of the last 1/3 or so of the book.

I think tho that I am getting pretty much burned out on superheroes. Hard to imagine, an old comic book aficionado like me, but, with all the Marvel and DC movies and television series, I think I am at that point. I think I've said this before. I added a "superheroes" tag to this post, and am going to go through this blog and see how many other posts also need to get this tag.

So I don't plan on reading any more of these. Maybe if I am totally out of other reading and am looking for some very unchallenging reading, I will binge some more of these someday.

I was then going to read a collection of Ken Liu short stories and a collection of Chinese sci fi short stories put together by Ken Liu. But while reading "Inside Straight", my preorder of "Seven Surrenders" by Ada Palmer came in, and The Plan was now completely destroyed. I loved the 1st book of this series, as raved about here. So that has moved to the top of the stack. I also purchased, probably based on some "you might also like" marketing, "Infomocracy", by Malka Older, which looks to be political science fiction and has gotten a lot of buzz. I also bought "Six Wakes" by Mur Lafferty, kind of by mistake, but I think I will give that a try as well.

There was an article in Locus of Cory Doctorow discussing the issues addressed in his upcoming novel "Walkaway". I posted a couple of comments (I was the only commenter for a while, now there's 1 other???), I include them here.

1. Re wasting excess solar, in June 2015 we installed 9kW of PV solar on a house in Naples FL. In 2016 we generated 10,441 kWh excess electricity, for which FPL credited us $175.20 – $0.01678/kWh, ~ 1/7 what they charge for it, indeed a pittance. Plus I cannot cash it out until I close my FPL account. It’s enough to cover the $8.07/month fixed FPL hookup fee forever, so I will never pay for electricity again.

Sometimes I do behave wastefully with this excess electricity – I do indeed have the air conditioning on and the doors open. But, I generally try to avoid it, because if I don’t waste it, it will be used by my downstream neighbors and help hold down FPL’s carbon footprint.

Another worthwhile use for this electricity is to charge an electric car. My wife has found that Fiat electrics are coming off lease after 3 years and selling for $9k – but on the west coast. We will probably be getting something like this soon – I just wish the range were a little more than the 80-100 miles most electrics seem to offer now.

2. Commenting on the content of this article rather than providing a PV solar data-dump, I am greatly anticipating getting to read “Walkaway”. I have been (fearfully) wondering for several years if the Millennials/Occupy solution to our corrupt and unfair oligarchy/plutocracy/kleptocracy would be to opt out and use tech to develop parallel systems. Sure hope it works! But how do you get around the old lizards’ still controlling all the natural resources?

The other author I’m very interested in hearing on this subject is Karl Schroeder. I think he is supposed to have some new stuff coming out soon.

How about a Doctorow/Schroeder collaboration? “And the Canadians shall show us the way”. ;->

I have preordered "Walkaway", but is not due until April 25.

Monday, February 27, 2017

More of the Same

I blasted through the Everness series, a YA parallel worlds saga by Ian McDonald. McDonald has always written good stuff. Apparently this is his 1st YA effort. The books are "Planesrunner", 2011, 269 pages; "Be My Enemy", 2012, 268 pages; and "Empress of the Sun", 2014, 288 pages. Hmmm, these books are no longer on the Kobo website for me to link to - whut hoppen?

These are definitely YA books. The main protagonist is a 14 YO London young male of Indian ancestry. He is a math, physics, and computer genius, and completes his father's work on the device that will allow easy exploration of all 10^80 alternate Earths, rather than just the 10 parallel Earths currently known.

The central cast of characters is the 5 person crew of a freight airship from Earth 3 - an earth with coal, electricity, carbon nanotubes, and 200 meter long airships, but no oil and plastic. So kind of a steampunkish feel. The characters are all quirky. Kind of reminded me of "The Expanse". The crew of a small ship makes for a manageable number of characters with quirks and backstories, I guess.

The plots move quickly. A few twists seem arbitrary, but, that must be the price you have to pay for an airship duel. McDonald comes up with very interesting alternate histories for the parallel earths, and seemed to be just getting warmed up. At the end of the 3rd book, we've taken care of the local crises but still have the overarching bad guys (The Order) to be dealt with. McDonald could probably crank out 1 of these stories every year or so without breaking a sweat.

Bonus points for having a Tarot-like deck of cards as part of the plot. The origin of the deck is unknown, and it is a dynamic deck, with cards being created and removed by its keeper, the 13 YO female main protagonist and (puppy) love interest. Some good card names:

  • The Cockle-child
  • Swannhilde and Swannhamme
  • The Winter Watcher
  • The Traveller Hasteth in the Evening
  • Season of the Wolf
  • Yubileo
  • Two Bad Cats
  • Lone Tree Hill
  • The Sun Empress
Here's another post where I talk about my love of cards. I probably could use to find a card game.

I'm down to 21 unread books in my iPad. I may be forced to read something worthwhile before too long. Oops.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Old Acquaintances

After reading the Walter Jon Williams stories, I decided to read the rest of the books I had in my iPad that were by old, familiar authors.

1st up, "Beautiful Blood", by Lucius Shepard, 2014, 296 pages. Shepard's novel "Green Eyes", 1984, a tale of recombinant DNA zombies who become avatars of voodoo gods, was one of novels of the Ace Specials Series 3 which included "Neuromancer" by William Gibson and early novels by Kim Stanley Robinson, Michael Swanwick, Howard Waldrop, and Jack McDevitt, and was a great, over-the-top story. His mid-to-late-80s short stories set in near-future US wars in Central America were haunting, and his short story "A Spanish Lesson", which I read in an early Year's Best, was like a moral sledgehammer to the forehead.

This novel is set in world of the Dragon Griaule, which also goes back to 1984 for Shepard. A multi-mile long sleeping dragon forms the infrastructure for several cities and kingdoms. It's kind of an odd story - scientist becomes drug dealer and criminal entrepreneur - somewhat reminiscent of Walter White and "Breaking Bad". It is an interesting read, not sure what the point was. It may have been Shepard's last publication before he died in 2014 at age 70.

Next up, "Coming Home", by Jack McDevitt, 2014, 386 pages. I think it's been years since I have read McDevitt. His stories commonly contain astroarcheology. The idea that as we explore other solar systems we are probably more likely to encounter ruins of dead civilizations rather than living civilizations is not at all unreasonable.

I think this is my last McDevitt though. It is set 9000 years in the future - but the characters have iced tea and grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. They get most of their information from TV talk shows. And at one point "He reached for a pad, wrote on it, and handed the sheet to me.". It kept reminding me of the old TV show "Cannon" - a detective who is actually more interested in being a low level gourmand.

The characters are mostly obsessed with finding a trove of artifacts from the Golden Age - 1960&70s NASA. Really? 9000 years in the future, and that's their obsession? Apparently this is a universe that never developed any exponential technologies. In 9000 years mankind has spread to only ~200 worlds - pretty disappointing. And most of the worlds seem like the 1980s, but with spaceships and flying cars. At least there are female characters in leading roles, so it's not too misogynistic.

Plus, early on, I was annoyed that the alliance of planets was The Confederacy, and its president's last name was Davis. I have read too many of David Brin's rants about the ongoing US Civil War to not pick up on this. The Google and I check McDevitt out: he lives in Georgia, and is now 81 YO. So, I think I will leave him to his peanut butter sammiches and "Fox and Friends" and spend my reading time elsewhere.

Finally, I read "The Medusa Chronicles", by Stephen Baxter and Alistair Reynolds, 2016, 416 pages. This is a sequel to Arthur C. Clarke's 1971 novella "A Meeting With Medusa", which features the discovery of large lifeforms in the upper atmosphere of Jupiter. This is definitely some decent hard science fiction. We have uplifted chimps, which I liked so much in David Brin's Uplift series, and I am surprised we do not see more of. We have the rise of intelligent machines. We have a descent to the center of Jupiter, where things get really weird. We have great events happening over an 800 year timespan. After the goofiness of the McDevitt, it was a relief to get a future that seemed ... futuristic, at least a little.

While I was reading that, a delivery showed up: "Norse Mythology", by Neil Gaiman, 2017, 295 pages, hardcover, that my son ordered for me. Thanks son! I think that is great that Gaiman did this. I have always loved these stories, and this new book will expose them to many millions of new readers.

I was prepared to be underwhelmed by the book itself, but Gaiman added some details and dialogue and in general created a good narrative flow through the stories. The very end seemed to be a little off, but perhaps Gaiman's version is more in keeping with the eddas. Note, I would also recommend the book "Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths", about the 12th century guy who 1st captured these tales, which I blogged about here.

This also reminded me, when my granddaughter, now 6, had just turned 3, I bought her a copy of my favorite picture book of Norse mythology: "D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths".

My grandson will turn 3 this summer, I know what he's getting for his birthday!

Friday, February 17, 2017

5 and a New Tag

Well, the Evil Orange One is about as bad as I expected. Still avoiding reality.

I have been moderately enjoying the blog of Walter Jon Williams. I have read most of his stuff going back 30 years. So I read a novella and a novel in his Praxis series. This series is space opera, with a highly feudal galactic empire undergoing turmoil after the last member of its original dominant species dies. The novella is "Investments", 2012, 110 pages; the novel is "Impersonations", 2016, 254 pages. Both of them are kind of detective stories, with the protagonist trying to uncover fraud and/or embezzlement. They both move along pretty well, but this series is not my favorite of WJW's work.

Then, as promised, I read "Everything Change: An Anthology of Climate Fiction", 209 pages. Holy post-scarcity-utopia, Batman, this eBook was free! This eBook came about after Arizona State University put out a call for stories in the new genre of Climate Fiction. They received 743 submissions from 67 countries. The 12 stories judged best were placed in this volume. The stories are all by authors I don't remember having read before. There is a foreword by Kim Stanley Robinson, and an afterword which is an interview with Paolo Bacigalupi.

The 1st story was selected as the best overall, and it is the most positive of the stories, with ultra-innovative solutions to climate crisis induced problems. The rest of the stories tended to be pretty depressing: the Pacific Northwest on fire; the last holdouts abandon Venice; and several set in Malaysia or Indonesia featuring islands sinking underwater. It is a fairly quick read, I would recommend that you take the hit and read it.

Then I read "Chasing Shadows: Visions of our Coming Transparent World", edited by David Brin and Stephen W. Potts, 337 pages. I like Brin's blog, although can be a little TL;DR sometimes, and he sometimes gives off that goofy libertarian sci-fi vibe.

Most of the stories in the volume are brand new, but there are also some older ones, going back to 1962. I think a worthwhile read, as the panopticon is indeed coming, such that is good to have some guesses as to what it might entail - get to know both Big Brother and Little Brother.

I particularly enjoyed the Karl Schroeder story. He seems to be really pushing ideas about how we can use the omnipresent, geo-aware Internet of Things and blockchain technology to solve many social and economic problems. I am anxiously awaiting more of his writing - he has said he has several things in the pipe to be published.

Finally, read a short story, "Questions for a Soldier", by John Scalzi, 2011, 28 pages. This is the main character of "Old Man's War" doing a PR tour and answering questions. I guess these little add-ons to an ongoing series aren't bad, and help solidify the canon, but, I'm not sure they are worth bothering with. I didn't realize how old this story was. This was the 1st eBook I was able to obtain with Kobo bonus points. Kind of a disappointing program - I'm glad I finally found something they were allowing for redemption that I wanted to read.

Monday, February 06, 2017

4 Channels + 1 + 2

Still escaping.

Been playing with some great musicians lately and having a lot of fun. I bought a new mid-sized amp: a 50 watt solid state Marshall MG50CFX. It has 4 channels: clean, crunch, overdrive 1 & 2. All the settings on each channel are soft so when I change something and like the outcome I hit the Save button, which saves it to that channel.

I got scientific and used the decibel meter app on my on phone to set up the channel volumes. With the master volume - the only "hard" knob on the amp - set to 5, for playing rhythm, the clean and crunch channels with the guitar volume on 8 are at 97 decibels. With the guitar volume on 10, they are 100 db. With the guitar volume on 8, the 2 overdrive channels are at 100 db. So I play rhythm on the clean or crunch channel with the guitar volume on 8. To take a lead, I can turn the guitar volume up to 10, or leave the volume alone and use 1 of the overdrive channels. Overdrive 2 is more fuzzy and trebly than overdrive 1.

The amp has a reverb knob, of which I have a little on the crunch channel. It has 2 effects knobs: 1 has chorus, phaser, flanger, vibe and octaves, the other 4 types of delay. The chorus is very nice, and I have it set on the clean channel. The delay I don't anticipate using much, if at all. There is also a damping button which "switches the power amp damping between classic amp feeling and modern response". It is off for Overdrive 1 and on for Overdrive 2.

I have had it out 2x, including a 3 hour gig yesterday. It has a 2 button foot switch. The left button switches between the clean and crunch channels, the right button switches between overdrive channels. I am still messing up and hitting the right button to kick on overdrive, then hitting it again to turn off overdrive, which instead selects the other overdrive. You have to hit the left button to get out of overdrive. I suspect I'll get used to it. Just have to remember the buttons select channels, unlike effects pedals which are on off.

I read Charlie Stross's latest, "Empire Games", 332 pages. This is "The Merchant Princes, the Next Generation". It's set 17 years after the end of the 6 Merchant Princes books. I liked those books - worldwalkers reminiscent of Zelazny's Amber books, but more science fiction than fantasy. The worldline closest to us has a scary, post-nuclear-attack US that is a complete surveillance society. The other main worldline explores what the US might be like if the American Revolution had happened well after the Industrial Revolution.

The 1st half of the book is mostly setup. The main character is likeable enough. It was a quick read, and I am glad Stross has returned to this series.

Stross has also lately in his blog making some pretty scary conjectures on the outcome of the rise of neo-fascism, as shown in Brexit, the Trump/Breitbart ascension, and other far right politicians gaining ground in Europe. See for instance his latest post.

I really liked the story by Karl Schroeder in the Heiroglyph collection, which I blogged about here. His focus seems to be on the future of governance and economics in our environment of ever-increasing information. I also have liked some of his blog posts and other writing. I thought he had written on addressing the "fake news" problem by using blockchain technology to automatically establish provenance on every item on the internet - hmmm, I can't find it, maybe he just tweeted a link to an article similar to this one.

Anyway, I decided to backfill myself on some of his earlier novels. 1st up was his 1st novel "Ventus", 2001, 485 pages. This reminded me of the movie "Avatar" in that it is about a post-singularity world, as I was convinced that the Avatar world of Pandora was. Note, tho, the novel predates "Avatar" by 8 years.

Ventus is a designed world with nanotechnology infusing everything, creating what should be an intelligent world where most wishes can be easily granted by the environment - but which refuses to cooperate and follow commands.

Schroeder creates the concept thalience - of intelligent matter maybe striving for consciousness, but on its own terms, rather than on human ones. Some interesting ideas there. I was reminded of a recent article claiming that the Google translation software may have essentially invented its own language. This is yet another of the many, many areas where we find that our anthropocentric and parochial attitudes are dead wrong. Real AI, once it starts to grow, will definitely go its own way. I just hope they love us. Or that we are, as Shroeder puts it, "regarded ... as a treasured companion".

The story also reminded me of the Iain M. Banks Culture novels. The backdrop is The Archipelago, a galactic civilization of 10s or 100s of 1000s of habitats, and a solar system with a population of 70 trillion, and godlike AIs and uploaded humans in the mix. Nice! An enjoyable read with interesting concepts.

At some point, I would like to go back and reread the Culture novels in order - all 9 of them. Well, I got that going for me. I still am bummed by Banks' early death at age 59 in 2013.

Then I read Schroeder's most recent novel, "Lockstep", 2014, 352 pages. I figured out early on that this was a YA novel. The protagonist is 17 and part of the plot is his trying to get a girlfriend.

This book reminded me of the movie "Jupiter Ascending", which came out 1 year after this book. In both, the young protagonist finds out suddenly that they are heir to a vast fortune including 10s of 1000s of worlds, and that their relatives are not happy about sharing.

There are some interesting concepts in the book. "Lockstep" is the system whereby worlds hibernate for 30 years in between 1 month periods of wakefulness. It was originally developed to allow life on resource-poor, dark worlds - more resources can be aggregated by non-sleeping automation during the hibernation periods. It enables, realistically, the creation of an interstellar civilization that does not have FTL (faster than light) travel - interesting.

The starting point of the book includes an earth where the trillionaires just want more, more, more, and could care less about everyone else. Sound familiar? Schroeder also explores some ideas on new forms of governance.

I found the emotional responses of some of the characters at the end of the book to be somewhat unrealistic. I don't think Schroeder has fully realized his character development writing skills yet - or maybe he's just dumbing it down a little for the YA audience - but his books sure have great concepts. This was another enjoyable read.

Between books, I have been skimming a book my wife got me for xmas: "The Ants", by Bert Holldobler & E.O. Wilson, 1990, 732 pages. She found me a used copy of this epic hardcopy tome - it weighs 7.2#. Many fun facts about the family Formicidae, and lots of nice pictures.

Next up, I am going to attempt to transition back to some more serious economics reading by a collection of short stories about climate change, and a collection about surveillance and transparency.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

A New Heuristic?

I decided to try a new author. I went with "London Falling", by Paul Cornell, 2012, 432 pages. A team of London police detectives get The Sight and begin policing supernatural happenings in London. Then followed this with book 2 in the Shadow Police series, "The Severed Streets", 2014, 416 pages, and book 3, "Who Killed Sherlock Holmes", 2016, 368 pages. The 1st 2 had been on my iPad for a while.

Cornell is noted as having written several Dr. Who episodes for TV, and also having done comic books. He writes well. It is interesting that the books are written as British books - lots of British/London slang and cultural references. The "define" function in the Kobo eBook reader did pretty well with the slang.

The books are mostly well paced, but, in the middle of the 1st book, I was really reminded of comments by author Walter Jon Williams, all of whose stuff I have read, in a recent blog post titled "Padding". Basically it talks about how the many comic book series now on TV, as good as they are, still wind up padding episodes in the middle of the season to stretch the main story arc out. I 1st remember "X Files" as having a long story arc (the aliens) broken up by episodes of unrelated or minimally related investigations. That seems to be the model a lot of these shows follow now. Some of those unrelated episodes I think I agree can definitely be characterized as padding, particularly when they do a cutesie episode, or a Christmas episode, etc.

I think I went through "Jessica Jones" pretty quickly. "Luke Cage" I got bogged down but did finally finish. "Daredevil" I got bogged down in the 2nd season but finished it. "Arrow" I did maybe 3 seasons with many starts and stops. "The Flash" I think I am current at 2 seasons. "Agents of Shield" I got totally bogged down in the 3rd or 4th season, despite their doing The Inhumans, of whom I was a fan back when they were in Fantastic Four comics. "Supergirl" and "Legends of Tomorrow" I still have going for me - I have not started watching.

There are so many of these out. The scripts, acting, and production values are all surprisingly good. It's funny how that is true, when there are so many network shows, say all the "CSI" shows, that strike me as standard, formulaic, lame TV shows, that could have been made 30 years ago.

But as good as this new stuff is, there is just too much of it. All the years I have been a sci fi and a comic book fan, and now it is an embarrassment of riches - so much content, so little time.

So, how to filter? I think my new heuristic is: if a writer writes for TV as well as books, then don't read their books. Their writing reads like TV, and it will probably eventually wind up there.

Normally I watch TV in the (late) evenings when I am too tired to read. So the more "comic-booky" stuff is good then.

Getting back to the Cornell books, the 1st I thought dragged in the middle, but reached a satisfactory conclusion. The 2nd got into some metafictional stuff - Neil Gaimann is a character??? The 3rd is metafictional and multimedia. We're back to Sherlock Holmes again - whom I had just encountered in Dan Simmons' latest. Part of the plot of the 3rd Cornell is that weird Holmes stuff is being caused by the fact that all 3 Holmes TV series are simultaneously filming in London. Ha ha, no denying it, Sherlock Holmes is really way up there in the current zeitgeist.

This one really reads like a TV show episode. The 1st chapter is a teaser, of the team carrying out an operation not particularly related to the main plot of the book, and making Star Wars jokes. At the end of the 3rd one, the local action has been wrapped up, and we've learned a little more about the Real Bad Guy, but they are in no way close to resolution. So I have no idea how many more books this series is going to go for - just to get 1 bad guy.

I notice these are getting shorter: from 432 to 416 to 368 pages. When you really think about the content, I think these should be like 200 pages. Each of the "Amber" novels by Zelazny and comic book type stuff like Moorcock's "Elric" and other series were all about this length. I always thought these felt "comic-booky", which Cornell does not so much. Cornell noticeably spends a fair amount of time featuring the main characters' spouses or significant others - I think standard in modern writing. So is this "superior character development and improved production values" or "padding"? For this kind of content, I think I'll vote for the latter.

Still, I'll read a few more in the series. Hopefully he will wrap it up by then.