Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Solip:System Peripheral Echopraxis

I am being good and actually reading Economics now. But before I got back to it, I had a couple of novels that were burning a hole in my iPad, so I went on and read them.

1st a piece of bookkeeping. A couple of months ago, I read "Solip:System (Hardwired)" by Walter Jon Williams. This is set in the universe of "Hardwired", which was a great favorite when it came out in 1986. It is a short read, only $2.99 on Kobo, and fun cyberpunk. The story revolves around the notion of weaponizing the post-singularity tech that allows the up/downloading of consciousness.

The 1st of the 2 novels I just read was "Echopraxis", by Peter Watts. This is a loose sequel to his "Blindsight", which I thought was one of the best sci-fi novels I'd read in quite a while, blogged about here. The Jurassic Park'ed vampires and augmented humans are joined by zombie soldiers and group-mind idiot savants with redesigned brains. Mainline humanity gets a few more props in this book, rather than being relegated to the dustbin of history as we were at the end of "Blindsight". The main character is called a "roach" by the other characters, but it's a compliment:

roach isn't an insult. We're the ones still standing after the mammals built their nukes, we're the ones with the stripped-down OS's so damned simple they work under almost any circumstances. We're the god-damned Kalashnikovs of thinking meat.
The novel is a great read, very insightful into the nature of consciousness, although Watts claims that he had exhausted his thinking on that subject in "Blindsight". The book also has 140 references to cognitive and brain science research at the end. Man, you could probably spend a week easy following up on those.

I also just picked up a short work by Watts "The Colonel", providing backstory on one of the characters of "Echopraxis". Only $0.99, I guess that the eBook format makes it easy for authors to release these short add-ons, as opposed to releasing a full novel or short story collection.

The 2nd of the 2 novels I just read was "The Peripheral" by William Gibson. I have a fair amount of Gibson in paperback or hardcover, so I got this in hardcover. I am increasingly finding it hard to read non-eBooks. The fonts are usually smaller than I'd like. Plus I'm spoiled with being able to highlight a word and get its definition or google it. I love books, but ...

"The Peripheral" is quite a bit more sci-fi than Gibson's recent near-future Blue Ant trilogy: "Pattern Recognition", "Spook Country" and "Zero History". These are almost if not completely mainstream.

His latest has some nice, workable time travel, alternate universes foo. The "current" thread is set in a near future dystopia which is basically "Winter's Bone" + 20 years. (Man, hope they get Jennifer Lawrence to play the lead in the film version of this.) The pacing of the book is great. There are only 2 narrative threads in a 500 page book, and the chapters are mostly from 2-6 pages - I think the longest chapter is 8 pages. Gibson's prose is as terse and catchy as ever, and he does such a great job of having the story line continuously accelerate up to the rousing conclusion - just like "Neuromancer" 30 years ago.

"The Peripheral" is definitely some of Gibson's best work IMO. Joe Bob sez, check it out.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

I Swear, I'm Done With Short Stories For A While

Well, I had another free collection of short stories, and figured, what the hell? The collection was "Some of the Best from 2014". You can download in Kindle, Nook, or Apple (my choice) format here.

The 24 stories, which are in alphabetical order by author, start strong and finish somewhat weak.

The 2nd story, "The End of the End of Everything", by Dale Bailey, was yet again an "end-of-the-world" story more like "7th Seal" than "Mad Max".

"Brisk Money" by Adam Christopher featured a hard-boiled 1950s detective who was a magtape-based robot - what, IBMpunk? Kind of an odd story.

"The Litany of Earth" by Ruthanna Emrys was a very readable Lovecraftian story - the ancient ones are very background figures, cast in a somewhat favorable light.

"A Kiss With Teeth" by Max Gladstone has pretty much the same plot as "The Incredibles", but with the dad being a vampire rather than a superhero.

"Reborn" by Ken Liu reminded me of one of Octavia Butler's series. Aliens with no long term memory conquer earth but then want acceptance and love.

"Anyway: Angie" by Daniel Jose Older had a good noir feel to it. The protagonist is a bodyguard for prostitutes who start getting picked off by monsters.

"Unlocked: An Oral History of Hayden's Syndrome" by John Scalzi was some good companion reading to Scalzi's novel "Locked In", which I blogged about here.

"Among the Thorns" by Veronica Schanoes and "A Cup of Salt Tears" by Isabel Yap both have a nice fairy tale feel to them. The former has a medieval setting, the latter a Japanese setting.

The story that actually made the greatest impression on me was "In the Sight of Akresa" by Ray Wood - but the impression was negative. In a medieval setting, the Baron's spoiled daughter has a love affair with a recaptured slave whose tongue had been torn out, and, in feuding with her equally spoiled brother, winds up with her fiance crippled, for which the slave is blamed and executed. Ugh. No characters of redeeming value, totally ignoble behavior, but written as tho we are supposed to identify with the spoiled daughter?!?!? I don't think it was tongue-in-cheek at all, just epic fail.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Even More Short Stories

I definitely seem to have been in a short-story-reading mood lately. Hopefully this doesn't denote a long term loss of attention span. Concentration was always one of my superpowers. Well, I guess we'll see.

I 1st read the collection of short stories and poems "Through the Drowsy Dark", by Rachel Swirsky. I had mentioned how varied and interesting her stories in the 150 story Tor collection were. These 10 quite varied stories do not disappoint. There are 9 poems alternating with the stories. I read the poems out loud. Poetry seems to work much better for me that way. I particularly liked the poem "The Dream Vacation" - a recipe in the form of a poem.

Notable stories were "Heartstrung", which features a crazy but effective metaphor of the female condition; "Defiled Imagination", which features some in-your-face female sexuality, which I feel is laudable; and "The Debt of the Innocent", which takes a frank look at the implications of healthcare as a commodity to be purchased rather than as a human right.

I had to buy this book from Amazon in Kindle format, and slightly annoying was the book's not having a usable (linked) table of contents.

This book was book 27 of a series called "Conversation Pieces" of books with feminist themes. Yay feminism!

Then, long overdue, I read "The Year's Best Science Fiction 31st Annual Edition", edited by Gardner Dozois. This has been an annual ritual for me for, I guess, 31 years. Always good stories, and a good place to spot new sources of edginess. The story quality is, of course, very good, but no new authors to report.

A couple of stories dealt with life after death: the 1st story, "The Discovered Country", by Ian R. MacLeod, and the last story, "Quicken", by Damien Broderick. The latter is one of those epic-in-scope stories that keeps one-upping itself. There were many other stories dealing with other flavors of post-human existence.

Also notable was "Earth I" by Stephen Baxter. This features religious vs scientific theories of how life spread across the galaxies. Both theories are wrong, and the overall tone of the stories is somewhat heartless. I have liked Baxter's novels that I have read, particularly his Destiny's Children novels (Coalescent, Exultant, Transcendent, and Resplendent), which have the great concept of an offshoot of humanity that starts using the social insect model of breeding. I will have to check out more of his many novels - I have also read the Manifold series of his.

Also noteworthy were "Rock of Ages", by Jay Lake, a nice conspiracy theory action story; "One", by Nancy Kress, a good superhero tale; "The Other Gun", by Neal Asher, which had a nice comic-bookish space opera feel; and "Technarion" by Sean McMullen, which was steampunk, but with electricity instead of steam - electropunk?