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.