Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Video: Evolution III - The Human Player Type

Casually Explained has a video up for an MMO (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) that sounds kind of familiar. I think I've played some of this... As the video says, "... make the most of your playtime."

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Book Review: The Tourist by Robert Dickinson

Pros: some great world-building, fun characters 

Cons: pacing issues, unsatisfying ending

The future cannot be changed by time travelling. Spens is a Tri-Millennium Travel rep, escorting tourists from the 24th Century around in the 21st. The resort’s records from the future do not show that anything happened, but a tourist’s disappearance greatly effects their own time.

Unfortunately I found the book disappointing. I liked the characters and thought the racism (? not sure that’s the right word) directed against the people of the future by the people of the present is unfortunately realistic and well portrayed. There was a real complexity in the world-building around language and expressions, which I enjoyed. I also liked that there were protocols governing time travel that determined what you were allowed to know/tell others about the future/past depending on where they are in the timeline. This is important as some characters meet each other outside of sequential time. I also liked the idea that for some people knowing their future could be burdensome, in that it created an obligation to fulfill the future, while for others it was comforting.

I found the pacing uneven in that a lot is happening but you don’t seem to learn much of importance. Each new revelation just confused me more, until I wasn’t sure what was actually important (or relevant) for the plot. Half way through the book I considered stopping because the mystery didn’t seem to be going anywhere.

As a result, I found the ending wholly unsatisfying. I was left with a lot of questions and some confusion. Either someone was lied to about their future, or the future was, in fact, changed, something that we’re told early on is impossible. It also annoyed me that a major plot arch depended on a paradox, with no discussion of how paradoxes work within this world. 


I was really pissed that we never learn what’s in the box. We’re left assuming they were instructions, but when Adorna (for the sake of ease I’ll use that name) goes back into the past the second time, she doesn’t give him any new instructions. Which makes me wonder why she was sent back the first time at all. Was Delrosso supposed to start bobby trapping the metal caches? The fact that the box kept turning up left me expecting it would eventually be opened and its contents revealed to be important (maybe they’d learn the sabotage plans and stop the NEE or something - but then I’m reminded that the future can’t be changed…).

But that ignores a larger question: Adorna was a complete peon the first time she went back, apparently unable to form independent thoughts or act without instructions. How did she morph into the woman who goes back as En Varney? As En, she starts a highly sophisticated effort in sabotage. We’re meant to believe she’s suddenly self-motivated and comfortable dealing with people enough to hold down her job as well as make the underworld connections she does without new training? 

The paradox of her doing things at the instructions of her older self - who’s present in the same time despite some vague comments that that’s bad - was annoying. I’d have liked some discussion of how paradoxes work, and, for that matter, why being in the same place twice is bad (because nothing happens to her, despite being in fairly close proximity to her other self).

A smaller question I have is what exactly about his extraction mission convinces Riemann to waste 15 years of his life to meet Adorna again? Was it watching Spens die? Was it really just to talk to Adorna again? Because if it was, he didn’t say much of worth. Yeah, he told her some stuff about her past and future, but without any proof I’m not sure why he thought she’d believe him and change what she was doing. He doesn’t try to appeal to her humanity in any way - explain the deaths her sabotage will cause in any graphic sense. It just seemed kind of useless.

And I’m left assuming Spens’ future facts are all lies, since he’s obviously meant to die at the end, out of time and place of where he was told he would die. 

Friday, 24 March 2017

Humble Bundle: Women of Science Fiction and Fantasy

If you're looking for some great SF & F titles by women, Humble Bundle's got you covered with books published by Open Road Media. As with their other bundles, pay a certain amount to unlock DRM free ebooks in multiple formats.

At $1+ you get Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand, Jaran by Kate Elliott, and Path of Fate by Diana Pharaoh Francis.

Pay $8+ and you also get Parable of the Talents and Wild Seed (Octavia Butler), Sunshine (Robin McKinley), Black Light and Saffron and Brimstone (Elizabeth Hand), Skeen's Leap (Jo Clayton) , Lammas Night (Katherine Kurtz), and Skin Folk (Nalo Hopkinson).

Finally, for $15+ you get all the above plus Octavia Butler's Unexpected Stories, Robin McKinley's Beauty and The Hero and the Crown, Katherine Kurtz's Camber of Culdi, Pamela Sargent's The Shore of Women and Jane Yolen's Sister Light, Sister Dark.

Want to learn more? Check out the site.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Shout-Out: Orbital Cloud by Taiyo Fujii

The global war on terror has a new front—the very edge of outer space. 
In the year 2020, Kazumi Kimura, proprietor of shooting star forecast website Meteor News, notices some orbiting space debris moving suspiciously. Rumors spread online that the debris is actually an orbital weapon targeting the International Space Station. Halfway across the world, at NORAD, Staff Sergeant Darryl Freeman begins his investigation of the debris. At the same time, billionaire entrepreneur Ronnie Smark and his journalist daughter prepare to check into an orbital hotel as part of a stunt promoting private space tourism. Then Kazumi receives highly sensitive information from a source claiming to be an Iranian scientist. And so begins an unprecedented international battle against space-based terror that will soon involve the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, NORAD, and the CIA.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Video: South Korea's giant manned robot

Even wanted to be a Gundam pilot? Well, South Korea's got your covered. Back in December, Hankook Mirae Technology's manned robot, "Method-2" took some of its first steps.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Book Review: Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer

Pros: brilliantly plotted, amazing world-building, excellent pacing, thought provoking

Cons: fundamentally disagreed with some of the philosophy, ending left me disappointed

Picking up immediately where Too Like the Lightning left off, Seven Surrenders details more of the actions of the heads of the seven hives, reveals the thief behind the seven-ten list, deals with the fall-out of the revelations that ended the first book, and paves the way for potential war.

I loved all of the politics, manipulation, and unclear morality of this book. This book has a LOT of political maneuvering and backroom dealings. It made me think about a lot of issues, even if my conclusions were different from those the book came to.

Mycroft remains an unreliable narrator at times, not always telling the truth and keeping certain things hidden until later. this helps with the pacing of the book, which I thought was great. The revelations come fast and hard, but enough is saved for the end to keep the reader guessing and turning pages quickly.

If the mix of sensual language and politics from the first book disturbed you, there are a few uncomfortable scenes in this book as well, mostly at the beginning.

One character is gendered as ‘it’, which may upset readers. We are told the character chose that pronoun, but in addition to being a gender neutral term, it’s also a term that reduces the person’s humanity. Given the nature of the character, both of those may have been intentional repercussions of that choice.

There’s a speech towards the end of the novel about gender that kind of irritated me. While I agreed with the ultimate point (or, at least understood where the character was going with the discussion), I’d understood this future to have done away with gendered pronouns as well as gendered clothing and expectations. And yet, this speech implied that children were still raised with the ideas that boys were more aggressive and girls more caring, etc, something I didn’t get from the books themselves. But what annoyed me was the assertion that some traits code ‘female’ and others ‘male’ and if you get rid of those terms, it just makes everyone more ‘masculine’ as if men aren’t inherently capable of being kind or considerate despite the book’s clear proof to the contrary (Carlyle, Bridger, etc. are men who obviously care about humanity, notwithstanding their being male).

The ending left me feeling unsatisfied. Yes, there are more books in the series which may overturn this, but with so many revelations I was expecting more resolution.

*** SPOILERS ***

These are major plot spoilers. You’ve been warned.

The character referred to as ‘it’ is Sniper. It’s revealed that they’re a hermaphrodite, possessing both male and female lower genitals. The revelatory paragraph is from their perspective, and explains how they wanted to be a human doll for their fans, and not disappoint fans of any gender. It’s left unclear if surgery was involved. Later on, as we learn more about the O.C. and what Sniper’s bash has been doing, it’s also clear that they’re not the most moral person, making the reader question their humanity in terms of principle as well as physicality. That two of their dolls are animated at the end - actual ‘its’, greatly effecting world events, makes me think the use of ‘it’ for Sniper was to get readers to think more about gender and pronouns, especially in a world where he and she are not supposed to be in use anymore.   

I was surprised by the lack of panic over using the transit network after the assassinations by the Saneer-Weeksbooth bash were revealed. Yes, the bash was replaced (though how quickly would the public be aware of this?), but I’d still be wary of getting in a car driven by someone else knowing they’ve been put to such use in the past and might be again.

Regarding the ending, it really annoyed me that Madame avoided acknowledging that the coming war was in large part due to her manipulations. I also thought Saladin should face some punishment for his part in the deaths 13 years prior. How they’ve allowed him to keep Apollo’s cloak, granting him invisibility, is beyond me. But these consequences may occur in the forthcoming books.

I also don’t share everyone’s assertion that J.E.D.D. Mason will be a good leader. The man believes he’s God. He doesn’t understand or care about the concerns of everyday people. And now he doesn’t believe life is sacred either. He’s going to be a monster. And even if he weren’t. Having one benevolent ruler doesn’t mean his successor will be as good as he is. Alexander’s empire collapsed upon his death and Rome had a number of horrible Caesars after Augustus. Madame’s insistence that he be named the next Emperor also confused me, as the reason he was named porphyrogene was because that made him legally ineligible to become Emperor. 

I found the final conversation around Jehovah’s bedside to be more emotionally impacting than the final chapter with Bridger. Because he factors into the story so little, I didn’t have the emotional connection to Bridger that this chapter depends on for impact. I also don’t think Mycroft had thought through the implications of immortality and resurrection on the world at large - population control, birth, etc. would have to be renegotiated on a global scale if no one ever dies and the dead are brought back to life. None of these issues are ever brought up and discussed, and I would have expected them to be, considering these are things Mycroft feels Bridger should be doing with his power. 

Friday, 17 March 2017

Movie Review: The Seventh Sign

Directed by Carl Schultz, 1988

Pros: mixed Judaic and Christian end of the world traditions, down syndrome actor

Cons: melodramatic

A figure of a man breaks ancient seals, causing the destructions foretold by prophesy that will herald the end of the world. Abby Quinn (Demi Moore)’s pregnancy is nearing its end, but a previous miscarriage causes her to be overcautious. Her husband (Michael Biehn) is a lawyer trying to stop an execution. When they rent out an apartment to a quiet man, Abby starts to believe he’s planning to hurt her unborn child.

First off, it disturbed me, as a former renter, seeing Abby enter the apartment several times without permission or notice. The second time she even rummages around the guy’s belongings, which is illegal. She ends up being a stalker too, calling after him in the rain to see if he wants a ride and then following him down streets and into a building. And while it turns out she’s right to be wary of this man, it was uncomfortable watching at times.

I really liked how the film brought together Christian imagery of the Apocalypse by way of Revelations as well as the Jewish tradition of the Guf, something I’d never heard of but which wikipedia tells me is a real belief. I thought the depiction of the Jewish faith was handled well, especially the scene where the translator needs to find a Bible, as Revelations is not his Testament.

I appreciated that Jimmy’s character was played by a man with down syndrome, though I’m less keen on the crime he’s accused of. I’m not sure how I feel about the resolution of his story line and what it would mean for believers if his view of things and actions because of that view, were the correct actions in God’s mind. I’m also not sure how I feel about the inference that he has down syndrome because his parents were siblings (ie, due to incest).

The acting is on the melodramatic side, which I guess fits the atmosphere of the story.

The movie starts slow, but was pretty interesting once it got going.