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9th February 2015

7:35pm: Read: The Magician's Land, by Lev Grossman (2014-10)
At the end of _The Magician King_, Quentin Coldwater found himself thrust forever from the magical land of Fillory. Back on Earth, he finds himself at sixes and sevens, and fetches up on the shores of Brakebills, the only accredited magic school in the United States, where he is given a room and teaching duties.

But it is not to be; a student's prank leads Quentin into trouble and he is thrust also from Brakebills. A mysterious letter leads him to what could be a very profitable career in magical crime (and the wayward student also) ... but that, too, goes awry, in ways that would be too spoily to explain.

Meanwhile, in Fillory, the remaining Kings and Queens find themselves warned by the ram-God Ember that their world is about to come to an end. Their search for a way to save Fillory leads them back to Quentin, and so to Earth, where Quentin is involved in a ferociously complex magical experiment that _might_ bring his long-lost love back to human life.

That's all the plot I feel comfortable giving away. There's a lot more, believe me; this book twists and turns and somehow everything comes together in a most satisfactory way, closing Grossman's trilogy in a way befitting its beginnings. As I said about the first book: these are books for anyone who has ever fallen in love with a magical land, but now I add, they are about what such a land would be for adults, not for children.

The writing is witty and referential. Hints can be found of Harry Potter, Narnia (most of all), Middle-earth, Oz, Wonderland, even, Ember help us, Xanth. But Fillory is not just these refernces, nor even the sum of them, but a land of its own right, well worth loving; and in the end, it is the protagonists' love of the land that matters.
8:25am: Happy 80th birthday to...
...Lionel Fanthorpe!

6th February 2015

4:34pm: Read: Fiddlehead, by Cherie Priest
The last book of the "Clockwork Century" saga wraps things up in a nice tight package, with characters from the previous books and new ones alike appearing (or, in some cases, _not_ appearing) to take part in the finale.

It is late 1879, and the War Between the States is still raging. Lincoln stepped down as President after a near-successful assassination attempt in '65; he is a major character in this one. So is Ulysses S. Grant, a third-term President who discovers a huge plot taking place right under his nose...

Gideon Bardsley, a brilliant inventor, has created a calculating machine called the Fiddlehead. The Fiddlehead assesses probabilities, and has determined that, if the War isn't ended and quickly, the result will be moot because of a plague that has crept up on both sides...

(If you've read the previous novels in the series, you can probably guess that the plague is walking dead people, the result of the mysterious yellow gas that destroyed a small town called Seattle.)

But someone will kill to keep Bardsley's message silenced. It's hard enough for him to be taken seriously, because he's an ex-slave; when he's falsely accused of murder, what can he do?

Then there's Maria Boyd, an ex-Southern spy now working for the Pinkertons out of Chicago. Lincoln hires the Pinkertons to watch his house and extends his protection to Bardsley, and Boyd is sent to help. Her mission will take her back across the Mason-Dixon line...

All these threads, and a few more, come together in a pair of explosive finales that will either end the war, or prolong it forever. And there are those who prefer the latter option...

Priest writes cleanly and clearly, creates believable characters (given the somewhat unbelievable venue in which they are set), and keeps the story moving well. All in all, an exciting conclusion to an exciting stempunk saga.

4th February 2015

7:24pm: Read: Look to Windward, by Iain M. Banks (2015-8)
While not quite the scale of a Stapledon, Iain M. Banks wrote on a huge scale - galactic, in fact. His tales of the Culture run into parsecs, if not megaparsecs, and involve (or imply) similarly long time scales.

The Culture is a vast conglomeration of worlds, Orbitals, and God only knows what else, running to trillions of (mostly human) people. And, through its Special Circumstances operatives, the Culture meddles with other civilizations - always for their own good.

One such civilization is the Chelgrians, a kinda-sorta humanoid species with a fifth limb, the midlimb, and other deviations from human norm like fur and being descended from predators rather than omnivores. The Chelgrians were a firmly caste-driven society until the Culture interfered; that interference resulted in a bloody civil war for which the Culture accepts guilt.

Our two main characters are both Chelgrians. One, who missed the civil war, is Ziller, a composer who lives on a Culture Orbital, a sort of ringworldy thing run by a Mind. (The Minds of the Culture are vast artificial intelligences capable of running whole worlds ... and other things.) He is composing a new symphony to be played by the light of a nova caused in the Culture's last great war, hundreds of years ago, as it reaches the Orbital.

The other is Quilan, a military officer who barely survived the Chelgrian civil war, and lost his wife. He comes to the Orbital on a mission so secret even he does not know what it is; that knowledge is buried in his brain along with another personality, a General sent as his co-pilot and advisor. (Or so it seems.)

The clash of interests between the two (who never actually meet) takes up a great part of the narrative. Other parts take place in an "airsphere," a bubble of air so large that it is, apparently, gravitationally stable, and supports "dirigible behemothaurs," creatures bigger than most starships, who may or may not be sentient as we understand it. Here a scholar from the Culture makes a potentially deadly discovery - which, in turn, ties in to the main plot, as you would expect.

Banks's weakness as a writer was usually endings. This novel, I am happy to say, has a completely satisfying climax, though it is very much in Banks's style. Like all of Iain M. Banks's science fiction novels, it is thoroughly worth reading.

26th January 2015

2:54pm: Read: Sleeping Late on Judgement Day, by Tad Williams (2015-7)
This is the final book of a trilogy. Though the _series_ is left open-ended, and there are hooks for possible later volumes, the story begun in "The Dirty Streets of Heaven" and continued in "Happy Hour in Hell" concludes pretty definitively with this volume.

Bobby Dollar, the angel who went to Hell, is in trouble with Heaven.

Well, that's nothing new, but what's new is that the book opens with him on trial, and if he's found guilty, he goes back to Hell as a resident.

By the end of the second book, Bobby knew who the angel dealing with Hell was and what s/he was doing. (See, I'm giving no clues in case you haven't read them.) And all he wanted to do was get his beloved Cazmira out of Hell...

To do so, he needed to capture a certain object and trade it to Grand Duke of Hell Eligor, who has an office on Page Mill Road in Palo Alto, CA. But things never go smoothly, especially not if you're the angel Doloriel, and he and his merry little crew (a few more angels, plus some Scythian warrior women from the Ukraine) get into it deeper than anyone should have to be.

Not everyone survives. (I can say that without spoilies because I'm not saying who dies, or how dead they wind up, right?) The plot thickens, and thickens, and thickens. Demons and angels both want to stop Bobby from what he's doing. The Nazi-ish Black Sun cult wants the ... object ... for reasons that would be spoily to tell.

And the narration remains very funny in a _noir_ish kind of way.

Recommended if you like urban fantasy at all.

24th January 2015

9:53pm: Seen: Strange Magic (2015)
This movie is something of an amuse-bouche to take the bad taste of the Hobbit movies out of one's mouth, and far better than it has any right to be, as long as you aren't expecting much in the way of depth. But then, it's a Lucas film, so nobody should expect much in the way of depth.

A Fairy Kingdom and a Dark Forest exist side by side in dubious peace. Years ago, the Bog King (voice of Alan Cumming), ruler of the DF, imprisoned the Sugar Plum Fairy (Kristen Chenoweth), the only one who knows how to make a love potion. That's background, mind you.

Our heroine is Marianne (Evan Rachel Wood), princess and heir-apparent of the Fairy Kingdom. She is engaged to Roland (Sam Palladio), a self-involved twit who only wants the crown, but on their wedding day, catches him smooching another fairy. She goes all "No more love for me," to the tune of "I'll Never Fall in Love Again," and learns how to use a sword and all and generally becomes a bad-ass fairy.

(Oh, yes. The characters sing a _lot_ of pop songs of the past fifty years or so. And it - weirdly - works, once you get past the "Huh?" factor.)

Well, of course Roland gets the idea that he can get back into Marianne's good graces by using the aforementioned love potion, so he convinces a young elf named Sunny (Elijah Kelley), who is hopelessly in love with Marianne's sister Dawn (Meredith Anne Bull), to go into the Dark Forest, find the Sugar Plum Fairy, and get the potion made.

Well, the potion is made, but the Bog King gets horked off by this, and decides to invade the Fairy Kingdom. He takes Dawn prisoner, but not before she gets dusted with the love potion, and of course the next living thing she sees is the Bog King himself. Marianne (on her own), Sunny (with one fellow elf), and Roland (leading an ad-hoc army) all head for the Dark Forest intending in various ways to get Dawn back.

Merriment of a Midsummer Night's Dream sort ensues, and there is the requisite happy ending. All in all, much better than we have any right to expect from anything Lucas comes up with these days.

22nd January 2015

8:46am: Read: Area X/The Southern Reach Trilogy, by Jeff VanderMeer (2014-4, 5, 6)
Thirty years or so ago, something known only as "The Event" created Area X. A boundary dropped around a section of Florida's Panhandle region known as "the Forgotten Coast," sealing it off from the rest of the world.

The Southern Reach, a scientific-cum-clandestine government organization, finds a "door" into Area X, and begins sending expeditions into the Area. Those who come back - and most do not - come back _changed_.

The first book of the trilogy, _Annihilation_, tells the story of the Twelfth Expedition, through the eyes of its biologist. There are four members: the psychologist (the leader), the biologist, the anthropologist, and the surveyor. They leave their names behind and enter Area X.

Here they discover "the tower" - or tunnel - it seems like a tower, but it goes _down_, into the ground, instead of up. Inside are strange words...

The second book, _Authority_, takes place in the aftermath of the Twelfth Expedition. Three of its members have returned, and the man who calls himself "Control" is assigned by "Central" to take up the headship of the Southern Reach, whose director has vanished. The title is apt; a significant part of the book concerns a power struggle between Control, the assistant director (who is fiercely loyal to the vanished director), and Control's contact at Central, The Voice. At the same time, Control is learning about the Southern Reach, and what little is known of Area X, and just how weird things are down there...

The third book, _Acceptance_, begins shortly after the cataclysmic event that is _Authority_'s climax. There are four viewpoint characters this time: Ghost Bird, the returned biologist (or is she?); Control; the Lighthouse Keeper; and the Director. Only the first two viewpoints take place in the "present." The Lighthouse Keeper's story leads up to the Event, and the Director's concerns how and why she disappeared before _Authority_. But they conjoin to tell a single story that takes place over years, and that may determine the fate of the world. Or may not.

This is five hundred and seventy pages of delicious weirdness. Unfortunately the volume is five hundred and ninety five pages long. The last bit kind of falls apart, as VanderMeer clearly recognizes that he can't explain Area X (any explanation would be disappointing), so he hints at solutions and leads the remaining characters to their fates, which may (or may not) be ambiguous in nature. I found the end kind of frustrating, but I don't see what he could have done better.

15th January 2015

8:20am: A very happy 80th birthday to...
Bob Silverberg!

5th January 2015

8:46pm: Read: Odd John and Sirius, by Olaf Stapledon (2015-2, 3)
I have, since my teens, been a big fan of Stapledon's cosmic novels _Last and First Men_ and _Star Maker_ - the scale of the latter being the grandest of any novel I have ever encountered.

It is a wonder, then, that I had not, in all those years, read anything else by Stapledon. Well, now I have ...

_Odd John_ and _Sirius_ come packaged in a neat omnibus, which is nice because they're thematically related: how an exceptional being reacts to human society, and how it reacts to the exceptional. Spoiler alert: society does not react well. Both books are full of a wry humor at the expense of humanity. Both are about what humanity could achieve if it weren't so "all-too-human." And both are quite different from Stapledon's cosmic novels in being the biographies of individuals in our own time.

Odd John is born to a normal family. He develops (at first) extremely slowly and is thought to be a moron, but then his mental, and after that his physical, development suddenly takes off. He recognizes a vast gulf between himself and homo sapiens.

He takes advantage of that gulf at first, getting away with a number of things from beating up a bully to killing a policeman. But he comes to recognize a kind of kinship with the human race - much like that between humans and dogs.

So he seeks others of his kind, and finds them. Some are badly damaged and some will not leave their lives, but a group of them, all young, found a colony on an uncharted island ... and I'll leave the summary there.

Sirius is not an accident, but the result of deliberate experimentation by a physiologist who is breeding "super dogs." Most are merely superior dogs, but Sirius is sui generis, a dog with human intelligence - and a good human intelligence at that. He is raised alongside the physiologist's children, and especially his daughter, Planxy, who is of an age with Sirius. As Sirius's development is much slower than that of ordinary dogs, this works out to both their benefit.

Sirius, though sapient, is still a dog, and his observations on human society come from a dog's perspective, remarkably well imagined. But society is not ready to treat with a dog as an equal, and things gradually go from good to bad... again, I'll leave off the summary.

"Society" in these books is very much British (though Odd John travels the world and shows that Stapledon was at least somewhat aware of cultural differences), and middle-class (though Sirius does get a good look at the slums). _Odd John_ was written in the '30s, and _Sirius_ during WWII, and both are shaped by their time and place. Both books use the word "nigger," once each, in a quite casual way that doesn't even consider that it might be offensive.

But these are quibbles. Stapledon was a writer of genuine vision and deep thought, and, if his novels are tragicomic, well, so is life.
8:27pm: Read: The Martian, by Andy Weir (2015-1)
I tend to rave a bit about books. I will attempt not to rave about this one, because I want, in a calm tone of writing, to convince you that you should drop everything and read it right now.

Seriously. If I were to tell you it is in the "Clarke/Niven tradition," you'll think one thing, and it won't be wrong exactly: you'll expect carefully worked out science and technology, problem-solving, and just enough characterization to keep the story moving. The thing is, it takes a strong character to make this plot work, because you're alone with the main character for long stretches of the book. Thus, I throw in a bit of Fred Pohl.

And he's not a bad throw-in: the closest thing to this I have ever run across is Pohl's _Man Plus_, also the story of a man alone on Mars ... the difference being that Roger Torroway was carefully prepared to live on Mars, while Mark Watney is, well, a castaway.

The third Ares mission is interrupted six sols (the Martian day of twenty-four and a half hours) after landing by a massive duststorm. The order is given to evacuate, return to the orbiter, and head home. But Watney is lost in the duststorm and, for the other five to live, they must abandon him for dead.

Watney, of course, is alive, with very limited resources and a long time alone ahead of him. The duststorm even trashed the base's communications, so he can't tell anyone he's still alive. He must survive on his own until the next Ares mission comes ... if it does ... and then cross harsh terrain, dragging food and water and air, to Ares 4's landing site ...

Of course, it doesn't go that easily. His food, water, and air are all limited resources. His attempts to solve his problems often and inevitably create new problems.

It isn't a one-character book, actually. We see characters on Earth react to Watney's loss, and then discover that he's alive (how would be telling), and start working to rescue him while accepting that it may be a lost cause.

This is a book about what's best in human beings. There are no villains, and only a little stupidity. The reader is not made to root for Watney; the reader _wants_ to root for Watney, and does. Watney is clever, resourceful, and optimistic most of the time (though with a sense of dark humor). I simply cannot recommend it highly enough.

30th December 2014

10:02am: Seen: The Hobbit - Battle of the Five Armies (2014)
Dain (Billy Connolly) speaks for me: at the moment the were-worms burst out of the mountains, he says (from memory, possibly inaccurate): "You've got to be joking."

I was already giggling helplessly at the were-worms, and that broke me into a full guffaw. Was Jackson actually commenting on his own amazing gall and stupidity?

As with the previous movies, the parts that were based on the book mostly worked well. I'd even say that one of the adds (Thorin's struggle with, gawdhelpus, "dragon fever") was an effective way of dramatizing the power of dragon-brooded gold.

But the rest...

The entire subplot of Kili (Aidan Turner) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) sucked ass, and spoiled the rather lovely image (always offstage) of Fili (Dean O'Gorman) and Kili dying in the defense of their kinsman Thorin (Richard Armitage).

Orlando Bloom, as Legolas, displayed the emotional range of a rock, especially when telling his father Thranduil (Lee Pace, but should have been Jason Isaacs) where to stick it. And T's instructing L to seek out Aragorn nearly made me wet myself.

As [personal profile] kalimac has pointed out, the Five Armies are rather ambiguous and could be anywhere from four to seven or eight.

The side plot with Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Gandalf (the thoroughly wasted Ian McKellen), and Saruman (Christopher Lee) is loathsome and ridiculous, and gives Galadriel credit for something that had actually been done by the Last Alliance a few thousand years earlier.

All in all, I think Peter Jackson is a fine filmmaker but a dreadful adapter and should be kept away from all classic literature.
9:34am: Read: The Mystery Play by Grant Morrison and Jon J. Muth (2014-68)
This rather disturbing graphic novel begins in the middle of a mystery play. (Mystery plays, for those who don't know, were plays on Biblical themes performed by various villages in late medieval times.) The character of God goes offstage for the fall of Adam and Eve, but when the time comes for him to make his angry re-entrance, he fails to do so: the actor has been murdered.

(The advertisement for the original edition read: "God is dead. Whodunnit?")

At the same time, a violent inmate is missing from the local asylum. Are the two events connected? And if so, how?

The chief investigators in this mystery are a CID detective with a dark secret and an ambitious reporter for the local weekly paper; other characters include a sleazy mayor, a photographer, and the local vicar, who has lost his faith.

Beautifully illustrated (I expect nothing less from Muth) and existentially bleak, this is a graphic novel worth your time.
9:23am: Read: Moonwalking with Einstein, by Joshua Foer (2014-67)
There is, apparently, a circuit of memory contests that includes a US National Memory Championship and a World Cup of Memory. In these competitions, individual participants perform feats like memorizing the order of a shuffled deck of cards in under two minutes, and a previously-unseen poem of fifty lines or so in a short time.

I had not heard of this before reading this book; neither had journalist Joshua Foer before an assignment led him to cover the US National. Foer was fascinated by it - so fascinated that he followed up on the assignment and eventually wound up training under one of these mnemonicists with the intention of participating in the US National.

The story of Foer's training is interspersed with a history of memory and its role in society; in particular, the way externalized memories (books, computers, the Intarwebz...) have changed the role of internal memory in society. Also interspersed are some key cases in the history of the science of memory: a man who remembered nearly everything (with no training), and a man unable to form new memories at all. Cases like these seem to call into question our ideas about what our personal identity actually _is_.

The book is eminently readable. Humorous at times and pacing his story so as to keep you interested, Foer has done an excellent job on what is, in the end, an anatomy of memory.

27th December 2014

7:32am: Read: Fallen Dragon, by Peter F. Hamilton (2014-65)
All the hallmarks of a Peter F. Hamilton epic are here (though this one is only one [fat] volume): interesting political economics of interstellar travel; multiple viewpoints; weird aliens; and, of course, an existential threat to the human race.

But theyr'e different here. For example, the multiple viewpoint is mostly limited to three characters, resorting to others only to show us things we wouldn't get to see otherwise. Most of those could have been left as mysteries, but at least one is critical to the plot. And the existential threat to the human race comes not from the alien, but from human nature.

The character we learn most about is Lawrence Newton, a sergeant in Zantiu-Braun's private army. Z-B is the company that more-or-less controls starflight. Starflight has not proved profitable, and Z-B balances the books through "asset realization," sending military force to raid its colony planets for valuables.

Newton comes from Amethi, a near-paradise where the native lifeforms all died out due to a super-ice age, so it's very amenable to terraforming. He's the eldest scion of the Newton family, who sit on the Board that runs Amethi. But he's not happy; he wants to fly starships. Through a turn of events I won't spoil, he decides to run away to Earth and learn to fly ... but the only way to get into the flight program is to work for Z-B long enough to earn a sufficient "stake" in the company.

You see, Z-B and Earth's other great corporations pretty much run the world at this point. Hamilton turns our expectations of this on its head by having them do so (mostly) benevolently, for sound reasons; they "uplift" poor communities, and anyone can earn a stake.

The main plot, however, runs around an "asset realization" mission to the planet Thallspring. Newton has been here once before, and knows there's something of incredible value in the uplands -- though he doesn't know just what it is. He makes underground plans to acquire it and smuggle it back to Earth, expecting that it will set him up for life.

Meanwhile, on Thallspring, an underground has been planning for Z-B's return since Newton's previous mission there. They have had lots of time to plan, and plenty of dirty tricks up their sleeve. Their leader is (or seems to be) Denise Ebourn, a kindergarten teacher by day and terrorist/freedom fighter by night.

The third viewpoint character is a mucky-muck in the Zantiu-Braun chain of command, Simon Roderick, who is along to make sure things go smoothly, which they don't.

So. That's the setup, and I won't spoil the main body of the plot any further. But I will say that, despite its 818 pages, it's a fairly taut story. In typical Hamilton style it begins slowly and accelerates, to the point where the ending almost feels rushed -- but not quite this time.

All in all, a very enjoyable read.

22nd December 2014

11:12am: As it begins to look more hideously likely...
...I come to the conclusion that a(nother) Bush Vs. Clinton election is quite possibly the worst thing that could happen, electionwise, in 2016.

18th December 2014

7:19am: A Very Happy 75th Birthday To...
... Michael Moorcock!

14th December 2014

8:22am: Seen: Yusuf Islam, Masonic Auditorium, San Francisco, 2014.12.12
The Artist Formerly Known As Cat Stevens played the penultimate show of his "Tell 'Em I'm Gone" tour Friday night at the Masonic Auditorium, delighting those who have been waiting, literally, decades for the chance to see him perform.

The stage set was charming: the backdrop was an old train station, with the main stage as Platform One. The conceit of the show was that we are all here to ride the Peace Train.

Islam's band is tight and professional, if not spectacular in the technical sense. Three guitarists (plus Islam himself), bass, drums, and keyboards supported his voice, which was as strong as it is on album. During a two-hour set he played a large number of his old hits, a few new songs, and a wide variety of cover tunes, from Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready" (the train theme again) to Jimmy Reed's "Big Boss Man" (actually written by Luther Dixon and Al Smith) - which surprised me, but shouldn't have; after all, two of his biggest hits ("Morning Has Broken" and "Another Saturday Night") are cover tunes.

A few of the hits were slightly modified to suit his religious sensibilities. As he said before playing "Another Saturday Night," "I don't search for chicks anymore," and he rephrased the song topically as the woes of an unsuccessful job seeker.

He played all the songs I personally wanted to hear ("Lisa Lisa"; "Where Do the Children Play?"; and "Father and Son"). The last of these was the main set closer, and after the tribal ritual of screaming for the encore, he came out and played three more songs: a new song, "Peace Train" (of course), and "Morning Has Broken."

In the end, he left the audience both satisfied and hungry for more, a difficult trick that is the mark of the consummate performer.

13th December 2014

8:14pm: Read: James Tiptree, Jr. (The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon) by Julie Phillips (2014-64)
Alice Sheldon is in danger of becoming a "lost" science fiction writer. As James Tiptree, she carried on for nearly ten years a career that included Hugo and Nebula awards, correspondences with many of the most important writers and editors on the SF scene at the time, and, of course, a number of really powerful stories - never once letting on that she was a woman. When she was "outed" it sent a shockwave through the SF world, shaking up many folks' assumptions about what men and women could and couldn't do as SF.

Ten years after that, she killed her husband and herself as part of a suicide pact of which he was not an entirely willing partner.

This is the story of a life that runs from the teens to the eighties of the twentieth century, featuring a childhood that ranged from upper-class Chicago to colonial Africa; service as a WAC in WWI; an interlude as a CIA analyst; a Ph.D. in psychology; and twenty years as a science fiction writer.

All of which doesn't even scratch the surface.

Alice Sheldon was a fascinating character in her own right, a product of her times and her family, who suffered from crippling depressions and a combined fear of death/fear of aging/death wish for many years; from unrequited (and basically suppressed for much of her life) lesbianism; and, very much, from the position of women in the world of her time. When second-wave feminism arose, she had a very complex relationship with it, regarding it as, basically, a good thing but doomed.

All of this and much more is detailed and analyzed in Phillips' book. It's a textbook example (so to speak) of how to write a biography: deeply and carefully researched, detailed without trivializing, and without imposing the writer's own agenda on the subject. Also, it is well written.

5th December 2014

11:18am: Fun Fun Fun
As a Type II diabetic, I rely heavily on my blood glucose meter to tell me when and how much carbs I can eat. So I was disturbed on Monday that it wasn't with me. I got home and it wasn't in my purse, wasn't on the table, wasn't anywhere.

Tuesday I worked from home so had to do without it.

Wednesday I returned to the office and it wasn't there either.

I had no idea how much the damn things cost, as I had gotten the first one free from my health care provider. I was shocked by the final price: $19.99 at CVS. Wow. I understand now - they make their money off the test strips...

* * * * *

And we just received word that our tickets for Yusuf "Cat Stevens" Islam have been shipped. Concert next Friday ... not one of my favorite artists, but absolutely one of S's favorites, and I admit I'm kind of looking forward to it.

* * * * *

Meanwhile, TicketBastard promises that they'll tell me about tickets for another event I'm interested in ... "Your wait time is approximately 15 minutes or more." I see they're really interested in this sale. Fuck them...

1st December 2014

8:52am: A very happy 50th birthday to...
...Jo Walton!

30th November 2014

5:54pm: Read: Kill Decision, by Daniel Suarez (2014-63)
I am, at this point, convinced that Daniel Suarez is the premier writer of techno-thrillers in the US today. He's a better writer than Crichton ever was, and without the misogyny; and he lacks the bloat and jingoism of Tom Clancy. Plus, his technological mcguffins are, generally, believable to this science-fiction geek.

The mcguffin in this book is autonomous killer drones, running on a swarming matrix patterned after weaver ants - the most vicious insects in the world; they take down marabunta and pretty much anything that invades their turf. Our primary heroine is Linda McKinney, a myrmecologist who has modeled the weaver ants' behavior: it is her algorithm that has been jacked for the drones.

When a drone attacks her hut (she's in the field studying the ants), she is rescued by a team of top-secret military operatives led by code name Odin, a man who uses ravens (yes, Hunnin and Muginn) as spotters. She is quickly dragged into an life where nobody but your team is to be trusted, where someone in the US Government is out to kill you, and where reality is defined by social media.

I've already given away a bit too much of the plot. Let me just make a few general comments: the novel starts a little slowly, with some characters who don't really matter to the plot, and who die quickly; but once it gets rolling it's as unstoppable as, well, something really unstoppable. I read the last hundred pages at a single sitting and annoyed my wife who wanted me to do something else, but who understood because she'd already read it.

The only real flaw is that the characters are a little flat and static. McKinney is forced into some changes, but other than that the only person who seems to evolve as a character is pretty minor to the story. The rest, and especially Odin and his team, seem to have no room for change.

That's pretty minor though, because a thriller isn't a novel of character. Overall, this is as good as Suarez gets, and that's pretty damn good.

25th November 2014

7:23am: Happy birthday to ...
...OrangeMike!

23rd November 2014

7:42am: Read: The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi (2014-61)
Quite extraordinary, like its predecessor The Quantum Thief.

Rajaniemi has more wild ideas per chapter than any writer since I don't know when. His prose glitters with them.

Jean Le Flambeur, gentleman-thief, despite being out of prison, is still not free. He must serve the pelligrini responsible for his physical freedom, who is fighting for her life amongst the Sobornost - "gods" who have uploaded their minds and who create copies ("gogols") of those minds for their own purposes. The pelligrini seeks leverage against the chen, the top Sobornost, and to this purpose, Le Flambeur must infiltrate Earth and steal the innocence of the chen.

Or, rather, what Earth has become. In Sirr, the fallen orbital city, the people eke out a living by harvesting jinni (loose minds, "lost souls") from the wildcode desert and putting them to work or selling them to the Sobornost. Tawwaddud, daughter of one of the five great families of Sirr, is put to work helping a Sobornost delegate investigate the murder of the head of another great family. This will lead her into danger, clashes with her family, and a chance at freedom.

The novel is structured as two intertwining stories, Jean's and Tawwaddud's, which come together two thirds of the way into the book in a way I had not forseen. In addition, there are stories within the stories, and stories are the key to controlling the jinn and the wildcode and much else. It is very much a story about stories, though it never gets meta.

Damn if this isn't _better_ than The Quantum Thief... which, for the middle book of a trilogy, is something of an accomplishment.
7:41am: The Century of the Quiet Sun
Wilson "Bob" Tucker would have been 100 years old today...

21st November 2014

7:30am: Catcerto?
A Lithuanian conductor, who obviously has too much time on his hands, took some "Nora the Piano Cat" videos and wrote a symphonic score around them.
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