Thursday, April 06, 2017

New York 2140

"New York 2140" is the latest novel by Kim Stanley Robinson, 624 pages, 8 parts of 7-9 chapters each. It is in the subgenre of science fiction now identified as climate fiction. I strongly recommend that you purchase this book and read it right now. I contains what I believe is a potentially plausible scheme for turning our oligarchy / plutocracy back into a democracy. Plus it's an enjoyable, well-written novel, with good plotting, an interesting variety of characters, and a satisfactory conclusion without any deus-ex-machina. When you have finished reading it yourself, you can come back here and share my spoiler-filled thoughts on the book. If you are not going to read it yourself, then by all means just forge ahead.

*********************** SPOILER ALERT ***********************
For being 123 years in the future, there is not a lot of really futuristic stuff. No singularity, the AIs aren't very smart, no life extension, no mention of space exploration. The time in the future I think was selected to allow time for 2 major ocean rise events to have occurred: 10' in 2060 (the 1st Pulse), and 40' in the early 2100s (the 2nd pulse). Both were caused by Antarctic ice sheets escaping into the ocean. They do have new materials that allow skyscrapers 2-3x as tall we we have now, and cities floating on the oceans and in the sky. Airplanes are mostly replaced by dirigibles.

One other thing that is not very futuristic is their political and economic system. It is basically what we have now - anarcho-capitalism that has lead to an oligarchy / plutocracy. The passage of time and the inevitable occurrence of terror events has led to more security (theater) and surveillance. The main purpose of the novel seems to be to propose his very elegant path back to democracy:

  1. Identify a bubble in the world's capital markets (that shouldn't be too hard). In the presence of a bubble, financial institutions will be even more overly leveraged than usual.
  2. Amongst the 99%, organize and declare a rent (in the economic sense of the word) strike, a Jubilee. Everybody quits paying on all rents or loans of any type, and purchasing anything beyond necessities. The drop in liquidity could create another financial meltdown like 2008.
  3. When the banks come to the federal governments demanding a bailout, nationalize them instead. This was done with GM in 2008, while the banks were given a pass.
  4. Finance now works for the people! Normalize finance industry salaries and bonuses. Implement the Piketty tax, and a capital flight penalty. Happy ending!
    These new taxes and the nationalization of finance meant the U.S. government would soon be dealing with a healthy budget surplus. Universal health care, free public education through college, a living wage, guaranteed full employment, a year of mandatory national service, all these were not only made law but funded. ... And as all this political enthusiasm and success caused a sharp rise in consumer confidence indexes, now a major influence on all market behavior, ironically enough, bull markets appeared all over the planet. This was intensely reassuring to a certain crowd, and given everything else that was happening, it was a group definitely in need of reassurance. That making people secure and prosperous would be a good thing for the economy was a really pleasant surprise to them. Who knew?
Such a great idea! Fight money with money!

I note that Robinson's improved society includes "a living wage" and "guaranteed full employment" but not a universal basic income. I wonder why he is not a fan?

The economics in this book are very good. It's funny, I read something like this and think "He definitely read Piketty." And probably Naomi Klein as well. Here's some examples.

the continuous panicked quantitative easing since the Second Pulse had put more money out there than there was good paper to buy, which in effect meant that investors were, not to put too fine a point on it, too rich. That meant new opportunities to invest needed to be invented, and so they were. Demand gets supplied.

...

Every ideal and value seemed to melt under a drenching of money, the universal solvent. Money money money. The fake fungibility of money, the pretense that you could buy meaning, buy life.

...

But after every crisis of the last century, Charlotte thought, or maybe forever, capital had tightened the noose around the neck of labor. Simple as that: crisis capitalism, shoving the boot on the neck harder at every opportunity. Tightening the noose. It had been proved, it was a studied phenomenon. To anyone looking at history, it was impossible to deny. It was the pattern. The fight against the tightening noose had never managed to find the leverage to escape it.

One consequence of ocean rise that I had never heard before: according to Robinson, dating back to Roman law, property in an intertidal zone cannot be owned - it is a commons. Makes sense, I know navigable streams are this way. So the new seashore areas, where much development has been going on, are in a legal limbo re ownership. But ...
"Wherever there’s a commons there’s enclosure. And enclosure always wins. So of course she wants to kill. I’m totally with her. Put ’em against a wall. Fucking liquidation of the rentier.”

“Euthanasia of the rentier,” Charlotte corrects. “Keynes.”

Much of the good political and economic info in the book is delivered in 1 or 2 chapters per part in which a/that/the citizen/smartass/city breaks the 4th wall and addresses us directly. Here's some samples:
So the people of the 2060s staggered on through the great depression that followed the First Pulse, and of course there was a crowd in that generation, a certain particular one percent of the population, that just by chance rode things out rather well, and considered that it was really an act of creative destruction, as was everything bad that didn’t touch them, and all people needed to do to deal with it was to buckle down in their traces and accept the idea of austerity, meaning more poverty for the poor, and accept a police state with lots of free speech and freaky lifestyles velvetgloving the iron fist, and hey presto! On we go with the show! Humans are so tough!

...

The bailout of the 2008 crash, which served as the model for the two that followed it, was calculated by historians at somewhere between 5 and 15 trillion dollars. One careful guess said it was 7.7 trillion dollars, another 13 trillion; both added that this was more than the cost (adjusted for inflation) of the Louisiana Purchase, the New Deal, the Marshall Plan, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the 1980s savings and loan bailout, the Iraq wars, and the entire NASA space program, combined. Conclusion: wars and land and social programs must not be very expensive. And compared to rescuing finance from itself, they’re not.

...

capitalism will be flattening itself like the octopus it biomimics, sliding between the glass walls of law that try to keep it contained, and no one should be surprised to find it can squeeze itself to the width of its beak, the only part of it that it can’t squish flatter, the hard part that tears at our flesh when it is free to do so. No, the glass walls of justice will have to be placed together closer than the width of an octopus’s beak—now there’s a fortune cookie for you! And even then the octopus may think of some new ways to bite the world. A hinged beak, some super suckers, who knows what these people will try.

...

Dark pools. Dark pools of money, of financial activities. Unregulated and unreported. Estimated to be three times larger than the officially reported economy. Exchanges not advertised or explained to outsiders. Exchanges opaque even to those making them. ... Liquidity vaporized. Liquidity gone through the phase change that makes it a gas. Liquidity become gaseous, become telepathy. Liquidity gone metaphysical.

All the parts start with some quotations, several by Whitman. The discussion of dark money concludes by invoking Whitman, in this inspirational passage:
They have all come back like the tide, like poetry—in fact, please take over, O ghost of glorious Walt:

Because life is robust,

Because life is bigger than equations, stronger than money, stronger than guns and poison and bad zoning policy, stronger than capitalism,

Because Mother Nature bats last, and Mother Ocean is strong, and we live inside our mothers forever, and Life is tenacious and you can never kill it, you can never buy it,

So Life is going to dive down into your dark pools, Life is going to explode the enclosures and bring back the commons,

O you dark pools of money and law and quantitudinal stupidity, you oversimple algorithms of greed, you desperate simpletons hoping for a story you can understand,

Hoping for safety, hoping for cessation of uncertainty, hoping for ownership of volatility, O you poor fearful jerks,

Life! Life! Life! Life is going to kick your ass.

I liked where a romance develops between a 36 YO male character and a 50 YO female character. After all the DOM(Dirty Old Man)ism of Heinlein and his ilk involving old men and young women, it is a pleasant change.

Several new words in this book:

  • Bildungsroman - a coming-of-age novel
  • jarndycing - a gerundal reference to Jarndyce and Jarndyce. Ha ha, I like this use: "jarndycing through the courts at Zenoesque speed"
  • polder - a tract of low land (as in the Netherlands) reclaimed from a body of water (as the sea)
  • till or glacial till - unsorted glacial sediment
  • aleatoric - characterized by chance or indeterminate elements, i.e., random
  • aeolia - wind (I think) - an aeolian harp is a wind harp
  • avuncular - unclelike
There were also many fun factoids throughout the book, as you would expect from an author as erudite as Robinson. I liked this assertion, from the quotations section but attributed to "Hard to believe":
Words her biographer claimed first appeared in print in the prose of Dorothy Parker: art moderne, ball of fire, with bells on, bellyacher, birdbrain, boy-meets-girl, chocolate bar, daisy chain, face lift, high society, mess around, nostalgic, one-night stand, pain in the neck, make a pass, doesn’t have a prayer, queer, scaredy-cat, shoot, the sky’s the limit, to twist someone’s arm, what the hell, and wisecrack.
It took me a couple tries to track down "Chenoweth's law", but I think it is probably in this book.

He also mentions how "these old clich├ęs had their origins in real physical reactions, common to all.": "her knees grew weak", "she saw red".

This was a very enjoyable book. It is particularly interesting to contrast it with Cory Doctorow's "Walkaway", which I finished just before it. I scored a prerelease copy of "Walkaway" from an old friend who owns a bookstore, and am waiting until it comes out April 25 to comment on it - that seems like good manners to me. Very different approaches to the same issues.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Music

I was in Naples, Florida from November 29 to December 15 and December 26 to March 13. I really got settled in down there. My music in was somewhat disrupted - nothing new in January or February. If I were in Lexington, I would have ripped some vinyl. In March I started loading stuff onto the MacBook I take down there. It wasn't much work to transfer it to my PC back here in Lexington.

Man the jam scene in Florida is great. Tuesday night the most excellent band Mudbone hosts a jam from 7:30 to 10:30 at Vodka Bar & Grill (formerly Weekend Willie's). They start calling people up to sit in at around 9. I've been going to that jam around 4 or 5 years, so they know me. The 1st few weeks this time, I was the only singer/guitarist/bandleader jammer showing up, so I was getting 8-10 songs, FTW. Later more bandleader types, including Guy Rienzi, started showing up, but I kept getting at least a few songs. Mudbone is a 5 piece band:

  • David Carlton Johnson plays bass and sings (and plays keys, guitar and drums). He tours with the Aaron Neville Quintet.
  • Mario Infanti plays guitar and sings (and drums). He played with Chuck Mangione for 4 years.
  • Ricky Howard plays guitar (and bass) and sings. He also has a rockabilly band Rick Howard and the Speedbumps.
  • Jerry Fiore plays harp and percussion and sings.
  • Bill E. Peterson is the drummer. His kit is just bass, snare, high hat, and 1 cymbal.
Steve Emerson also frequently sits in on percussion.

They are all absolutely top notch musicians and good guys. Here they are doing Chick Corea "Spain" and Jeff Beck "Stratus".

One night jamming there I was playing with a bass player named Jimmy Allen. He plays a fretted bass left-handed and a fretless bass right-handed??? He invited me to a jam Friday nights 5-8 at the Beach Box right at Vanderbilt Beach. So I started going to that one too. Other musicians there are Justin Ross and Bob Lynch, both guitarist/singers, and Drummaboi Jordon Henry (Jimmy's nephew) on drums. I got a lot of songs and had a lot of fun. I also 3 times played Jimmy's fretless bass. I did OK as long as I remembered to look at my left hand - Fretless Bass Challenge, check!

I also played at the Tuesday jam with singer/harpist Guy LaForge, and he invited me to come sit in with his band, Big Buck and the Biscuit Boys, which I did twice. They were a 5 piece band - harp, guitar, keys, bass, drums - with 4 vocalists. Big Buck (Guy) is like 6'3" and 300# and is a great showman and a very nice guy. Sitting in with Big Buck and the Biscuit Boys is definitely one to check off of the bucket list.

I also got invited to play at a 3 hour superbowl pre-party at Pelican Bend Restaurant in Isles of Capri by Rick Cain, who is lead singer and harpist for The King Bees out of Louisville. His wife Patty played keys and sang (and played bass on the keyboard) and there was a drummer. The keyboard player from BB&TBB showed up and played, as did Big Buck and Owen Evans. We had a harpalooza, with 3 harp players at once. We were playing on a pier with a dolphin swimming behind us. I took my new amp out and had a good time and got to play some new songs, and got free drinks. Woo-hoo!

Here's a pic of Big Buck and Rick Cain and a couple of the Biscuit Boys.

Finally, I made some new friends in Owen Evans and his wife Sheila. They were snowbirds from Ottawa, Canada. Owen plays harp and was pretty much always out playing when I was. He was a big Muddy Waters fan and we worked up a song he liked "Crosseyed Cat". It was decent by the 3rd and last time we did it - here's a link to a video of that last time. I like that limping guitar/harp unison riff. Sheila was taking lots of videos of us playing - if you go to my facebook page, there's like 8 there. I had some seafood I needed to use up before coming back to Lexington, so they came over and we did some serious damage to some sashimi-grade tuna from Oakes Farms.

Meanwhile, back in Lexington, the jam scene is pretty blighted. I am trying a once-a-month jam at Backstretch Bar & Grill Sunday 3-7. I am told this is different, not much blues, more like a bunch of old rockers and lots of people I don't know. I am looking forward to it. Then I will go to Coralee's Open Mic which goes from 7-9 at the new location of Cosmic Charlie's on National Ave. and play with Steve.


On the music in side, here's the end of last year's new music.

  • "Bob Dylan: 30th Anniversary Concert", many artists, 1992. Fuzzy lent this to me. 33 tracks. A lot of good stuff, but way too many tracks, so I gave it 3 stars. Steve and I have been playing Eric Clapton's very bluesy version of "Don't Think Twice It's Alright". This imported as 2014, I guess when it was remastered, but then I heard Johnny and June Carter Cash singing and I said, "Hey, wait a minute ..." Dylan comes on for the last few songs and is in particularly bad, nasal voice.
  • Norah Jones, "Day Breaks", 2016. Ms. Jones continues to produce most excellent music. She has a voice you don't get tired of. 4 stars. Here's "Tragedy".

  • Nine Pound Hammer, "Bluegrass Conspiracy", 2016. This is a local band. The lead guitarist Earl Crim I've played with a few times - he is an excellent guitarist and a very good guy. This album is very well done and engineered - but way too brash for my tastes at my age. 2 stars.
  • Todd Rundgren, "A Wizard/A True Star", 1983. I was discussing Todd Rundgren with the sound guy at Willie's Locally Known (Matt?) and he recommended this album. It is all over the place, like an experimental album with lots of drugs involved. 19 tracks, 9 shorter than 2 minutes, and including a 10:35 medley of 4 soul songs. 4 stars for the 7 tracks that sound like Todd Rundgren songs, 3 for the rest. Here's "Does Anybody Love You" - all 1:31 of it.

  • The Animals, "The Best of The Animals", 1965. Loaned to me by Fuzzy. One of the best of the 1st wave British invasion groups. Lead singer Eric Burdon stayed around in various incarnations for decades. 4 stars, except for "Ballad of Bo Diddley", which I found a little annoying, 3 stars. Here's "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood", which I've been playing lately, but with more of a Reggae beat. Nina Simone also did this song.

  • John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival, "The Long Road Home", 1969-2005. 19 tracks. Loaned to me by Fuzzy. I was never that much of a Creedence fan - I'm still not. We played "Lookin Out My Back Door" back in the day. 3 stars.
  • Coralee and the Townies, "Criminal Pride", 2014. A very good local singer/songwriter and group. Coralee has been running an open mic for several years. This album is well done but a little countryish for my taste. 3 stars.
  • Pavo Pavo, "Young Narrator in the Breakers", 2016. The kind of light poppy indy rock that I like. From Brooklyn, of course. 4 stars. Here's the 1st track, "Ran Ran Run".

  • Leon Russell, "The Best Of", 2011. I have always really liked his work, but it took his death last year to prompt me to get some of his music. I worked up "A Song For You", I think my favorite of his, it is fun to play and sing. He does it in Dm, I moved down to Am. 4 stars.

Music in is now current through the end of 2016.

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 tor.com.

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.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

3.5

Still in denial. Last weekend I was visiting with an older (81 YO) neighbor, who I had talked with several times since the election. This time the discussion turned to the media - of course Faux News was on the TV - and politics, and I got up and left. I am still not coping very well.

1st up, "Time Travel", by James Gleick. 336 pages. I read this in hardback. It's a pleasant and fairly quick read, exploring the nature of time and the history of the concept of time travel, which Gleick posits was unknown before H. G. Wells' "The Time Machine". In the end tho, there are no real conclusions, beyond the fact that we have all become experts on time travel, time loops, etc., thanks to movies like "Groundhog Day", "Terminator", "Looper", etc.

Next, Dan Simmons latest, "The Fifth Heart". 617 pages. I happened to notice this in Joseph-Beth when I was buying Christmas presents. I bought it in trade paperback. I found this cover blurb really interesting:

Holmes explains that his powers of deduction have led him to a shocking conclusion that he - Sherlock Holmes - is a fictional character.
Oh boy, metafiction! But Simmons doesn't really do much with the idea. It appeared that, aside from some carryover characters from the Holmes canon, including Professor Moriarty, Irene Adler, and Colonel Moran, most of the characters are real historical figures, primary among them the novelist Henry James who somewhat fills in for Dr. Watson. Others include Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, Teddy Roosevelt, Clarence King, Henry & Clover Adams, John & Clara Hays. James and I think Twain both wonder if, given that Holmes is a fictional character, that makes them fictional characters too?!?!? Kind of cute, but it really doesn't go much of anywhere. Meanwhile, the main plot moves along well, but isn't really that compelling - plus I kept waiting for the metafiction aspect to jump in. Still, an enjoyable read.

I really don't trust Simmons anymore since his right-wing-dog-whistle-filled "Flashback", which I reviewed here. Does he relate Teddy Roosevelt's white supremacist views with relish? Why relate them at all? Was he as enamored of the British class system as it seemed to me? Manservants, FTW? It has diminished my enjoyment of his excellent writing to have be all the time wondering if I am smelling right-wing, feudal bullshit.

Next, "The Moth", edited by Catherine Burns, 410 pages. The Moth is an organization that has been promoting storytelling for 15 years via live shows, NPR broadcasts, and podcasts. (My oldest daughter Erica says this is one of her favorite podcasts.) This book is 50 stories representing some of the best of the 1000s they have produced. There is an interesting foreword by the founder, George Dawes Green, telling how he was trying to recapture his memories of listening to true stories on the front porch when he was growing up in Georgia. The description of how they figured out how to make it all work is also interesting.

I read ~1/2 of the book. Some of the stories are more moving and poignant than others; all are interesting. But I was getting the feeling that the stories would be more enjoyable if read in small doses. We used to call that a "bathroom book", like a book of Joe Bob Briggs movie reviews. Read 1 while sitting on the pot. They are mostly 5-10 pages, perfect! So I set this book aside, to read intermittently.

When I was reading "The Fifth Heart", I noticed that I had missed Dan Simmons prior novel: "The Abominable". 688 pages. I checked out the ebook from the public library, and had a pretty good reading experience with the Overdrive reader. It was browser-based, and was some very nice, trouble-free JavaScript code.

The story is set in the 1920s and is primarily about an expedition to Mt. Everest. It somewhat follows the formula of Simmons' "The Terror" - historical foo with some weird supernatural stuff thrown in - but with some significant differences. From a few Wikipedia searches, the main characters appear to be mostly fictional. There are some real historical figures thrown in as well. The book moves along well and has an exciting if perhaps cliched conclusion.

Re the right-wing, feudal bullshit watch, several of the characters are British nobles, and we get descriptions of the fantastic manor homes. But I won't judge Simmons too harshly for that. British-nobility-love seems engrained in American culture overall - for example, "Downton Abbey", and the desire to play serious dress-up. I will continue in my quest to wear casual clothes wherever and whenever I can.

I had thoughts re, these beautiful homes filled with art, lots of which are probably tourist attractions now, could they have ever been created without feudalism, without the 1% to act as resource concentrators? (Religion seems to have been the other major resource concentrator, as in medieval cathedrals.) My initial answer was, no, probably not. But then I thought, what if capital had been distributed equitably throughout history? If artists had a basic income equivalent, they could have created what they wanted, rather than what their wealthy patrons wanted. How much more great art would that have resulted in? But, up until 50 years ago or so, there probably was little enough capital overall that a more equitable distribution would have still left everybody pretty poor.

Despite the current political victories for the old lizards and their thinking, I am still hoping that capitalism has indeed done its job as Keynes thought it would, that there has been enough capital created that we can move to a world of sufficient abundance for all, despite the old lizards.