Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Still putting off getting back into reading economics. Had 2 John Scalzi's queued, so I decided to do both of them.

First I read "The Human Division", the latest (book 5) in the "Old Man's War" story arc. I have most of Scalzi's earlier stuff in paperback, so I actually bought a paperback of this book. It felt a little odd reading it when I started. Each of the 13 chapters was originally published as a stand-alone story. It seems like it would have been fairly challenging to do, but together, the narrative flows well. He does a nice job of making a supporting character in 1 story the central character of another. Plenty of the snappy/snarky dialogue Scalzi is known for. (Note, I quit following him on Twitter, he was just a little too snarky for me, which I would not have thought to be possible.)

The only down point of the book for me was the middle story, "The Dog King". There is a history of shaggy dog stories in SF - Jack Vance came to mind for some reason - but the tongue-in-cheek tone of this story clashed somewhat with the rest of the stories. This one would have been better as a stand-alone.

The stories are all page turners and enjoyable reads. The "Old Man's War" story arc is left with many issues open, so there will be more in the future.

Then I read "Lock In". In the near future, a disease locks some people into their bodies - their minds work but the bodies don't. They get around this with implanted neural net hardware that lets them transfer their consciousness into robots (threeps, nice) or into the brains of a small percentage of non-locked-in disease survivors who also have implanted neural net hardware, allowing them to act as hosts.

Within this framework, the story is basically a police procedural, with some noirish detective overtones. It differs from noir in that rather than having the detective work his way up the food chain from a small, maybe senseless, murder to the rich and powerful, you kind of start out with the rich and powerful. It's a question of figuring out who's up to what, and in what body.

The story reminded me in a very general way of the Alfred Bester classic "The Demolished Man". That novel also is a detective story, but set in a world of telepaths, making for a different kind of detection.

It is, again, a real page turner - I read it in 2 days, a few hours each day. Amazon says it's 337 pages, seemed like less. There are some very nice software and network security discussions that are well informed. It has a satisfactory conclusion, with all loose ands tied and questions answered.

I also read "Twelve Tomorrows", a collection of 12 near-future short stories published by MIT's Technology Review. As you would expect there are lots of interesting extrapolations of current technology trends. Most of the stories are fairly short. The only real disappointment was the Brian Aldiss story, mostly because it seems like he has succumbed to DOM (Dirty Old Man) syndrome. I think I've commented on this before. As some authors get towards their 70s, they seem to get sex-on-the-brain. Heinlein and Frank Herbert both suffered from the syndrome towards the end of their careers. Always kind of sad to see it crop up.

The Peter Watts story was also a little off. As a former Weekly World News subscriber, I of course am required to enjoy a spontaneous human combustion story. But still, I couldn't quite figure out the tone of this story.

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