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Saturday, August 29th, 2015


01:00 am - Book: Saturn's Children

Freya is a robot made in the image of her human creators, as is everybody else on Earth. A run-in with a vengeful aristocrat means she needs to get off the planet as soon as possible. To do that, she seeks a job from a questionable organization. But rather than relieve her suffering, the job enhances her suffering and adds to it. Will Freya be able to find her way out of this mess?

I've had mixed luck with Charles Stross books: one was great, one was okay and two I couldn't get into at all. This one was very good. The basic premise is that robots took over from humans as the human birth rate declined (reason unknown). Some robots inherited property from their owners, including other robots. Control is maintained using slave chips, which are plugged into an available socket on the robot, limits its autonomy to various degrees. Sockets can also contain soul chips. Soul chips are used as memory backups; or as memorials, if a robot dies. Freya's sibs -- robots made from the same template -- pass along soul chips of the departed, to learn what happened first hand, perhaps gain some knowledge or insight. Usually, they do this the way we might watch a home movie -- a relatively short-lived distraction. Keeping another's soul chip plugged in for an extended period of time can have side effects; sometimes desired, other times not.

The soul chip concept creates many interesting possibilities, but also brings up issues of identity. In addition, we see that it's not a perfect technology. If you really don't want people to know what you've been up to, there are ways to keep those memories off the chip.

The robots continue to explore space, mostly because of programming. The trips Freya takes are a lot more realistic (translation: longer) than in other sci-fi books. The time scales seem crazy to me, but I'm not a robot.

I enjoy the way Freya, who has never met a human, puts biology into a technological framework:

My aching, oversized eyes are open, staring at the ceiling of my compartment as it bounces and rumbles across the desert floor. For a few endless seconds I half fancy I'm lying in a coffin, one of those inexplicable time capsules that our Creators retired to when their homeostasis failed.

and later

I turn my head to look around. The surface I'm standing on is prickly and brown, strewn with debris and rubbish that stick into the skim of my (bare) feet. All around me brown-stemmed branching structures like the dendriform molecular assembler heads in my techné -- only much bigger -- stretch upward, bearing jagged asymmetrical greenish black panels or sensors. I'm surrounded by green goo! I realize, tensing uneasily. These things around me are plants. Solar-powered self-replicating organisms that split carbon dioxide into oxygen and, um, something. (Please excuse my lack of depth. I'm a generalist, not a specialist.)

I believe there's a follow-up book. I'm definitely going to give it a try.

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Sunday, August 2nd, 2015


10:15 pm - Book: Homecoming

Jo Graham and Melissa Scott's Homecoming is the first in the Legacy series of Stargate Atlantis books and takes place directly after the last episode of the television series. Atlantis has arrived safe and sound on Earth and there has been much discussion regarding what should be done with it. The US Air Force and the IOA both claim jurisdiction. Meanwhile, the Atlantis crew feels that the city doesn't belong to either and that its absence from the Pegasus galaxy severely impacts the safety of the many worlds they've visited over the past five years.

After some back and forth, Atlantis sets sail -- or whatever a flying city does -- for a new home in the Pegasus galaxy. They find a planet that's suitable, if not ideal, and start to reconnect with their allies. But it's been six months and much has changed, mostly because of a new Wraith queen who calls herself Death. Queen Death has united the various Wraith factions into an unstoppable force of extraordinary magnitude. Well, all but Todd's hive ship, but she's working on that. On the human side, the city (including Teyla and her son) were away for several months and many people (including the son's father) presumed them to be dead. And though mom and son are alive and well, it's clear that this doesn't mean she's ready to settle down.

This part of the story ends with McKay being captured by the Wraith. I'm guessing it's not because they want free cable. We'll find out in the next book.

So far, so good. I'm looking forward to continuing the series.

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Saturday, July 18th, 2015


02:54 pm - Book: Cold Equations: The Persistence of Memory

David Mack's The Persistence of Memory is the first in a three-book series called Cold Equations. I had originally intended to skip this series, as I've been trying to concentrate on the main line of books, not getting as much out of the multibook series as I wanted. But it turns out that this series not only follows up on a book I read many years ago and enjoyed, but a book that's recently come out and which I anticipate enjoying follows up on this series. So, reading the series seemed like a good idea.

Several seasons and movies later, Bruce Maddox is still tinkering with Soong-type androids, and B-4 is his most recent focus. When he discovers that B-4 is suffering from a cascade failure and will shut down for good if something isn't done quickly, he summons the Enterprise (and Geordi along with it) for assistance. But before the ship arrives, a new problem develops: an unknown force has penetrated the defences of Maddox's secure facility and stolen B-4, Lal and all the other Soong-type android in his possession. If the Enterprise is unable to retrieve B-4, he will be lost forever and, along with him, so will the memories that Data stored with him before his demise.

I'd love to write more, but just about anything else would be a spoiler. One book in, I'm glad I reconsidered my decision. It's a good story and the characters are portrayed very well. I will say, though, that I'm weary of the "we can't copy information from system A or system B" and "if we copy the information to system B, the copy in system A will be erased" tropes. I'd like to think that 24th century IT staff still make backups.

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Wednesday, July 1st, 2015


10:09 pm - Book: The Mark of Athena

The Mark of Athena is the third in Rick Riordan's Heroes of Olympus series, after The Son of Neptune.

The Greeks and Romans have finally come together, but only long enough to hear a prophecy and be set against each other by an evil third party. Percy, Jason, Annabeth, Piper, Leo, Frank and Hazel set off in search of the one thing that might bring the two sides together, an item whose retrieval might undo the act that set the two groups apart in the first place.

Even after ten books, I still enjoy them and look forward to reading the next one. While it hurt to see the old hatred reignite so quickly, especially after two books of getting to know each other, it was fun to see the this group of seven getting past all that and working together.

Quote:

  • Annabeth sat up and glared at her ankle.

    "You had to break," she scolded.

    The ankle did not reply.


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Sunday, June 14th, 2015


03:52 pm - Book: The Woman who Died A Lot

The Woman who Died A Lot is the seventh book in Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, after One of our Thursdays is Missing.

To reduce the stupidity surplus, the government has decided to reinstate all of the SpecOps divisions at considerable cost. But instead of being put in charge of her old unit, Thursday is now the head of Wessex Library Service. This doesn't prevent her, however, from getting involved in more Goliath Corporation shenanigans, from illegal Day Players to seemingly random book thefts to an unethical and fairly dodgy way of deflecting a smiting.

Oh yes, the smiting. The Almighty is a bit peeved and has decided to unleash a cleansing fire upon Swindon at the end of the week. Thursday's daughter Tuesday is working on perfecting an Anti-Smite Defense Shield, an attempt at reducing the stupidity surplus which backfired when having a shield became a very good idea. The missing link is a mathematical MacGuffin which will take an order of magnitude more time than they have to figure out. Hence, the need to employ Goliath's services to deflect the smiting away from the populace.

Injuries Thursday suffered previously prevent her from entering BookWorld unassisted, which is a shame. Nonetheless, reading a story set exclusively in the "real world" is still enjoyable. That said, as the series goes on, the characters do get older and as the characters become more mature, so do some of the antics. Movie series tends to maintain the same rating. If the first movie was PG-13, so are the rest, generally. With these books, the rating is ever so slightly creeping upward and I have mixed feelings. Letting the characters age is more realistic and allows for new storylines. But then you have the mathematical genius pervert:

"Ah!" he said with a smile. "The ever-illusive Unentanglement Constant. I've been doing some initial work that looks promising, but I was distracted by the need to expand and catalog my collection of pornographic magazines."

"How long would it take?" asked Landen.

"Alphabetically, about a week. If I do it by my favorites, then a lot longer."

"Not the porn, the Unentanglement Constant."

Those who started when the first book came out have grown up as the characters have, so the storylines aren't entirely out of place. But a new reader can go from start to finish in days or weeks. Perhaps I'm worrying too much.

Quotes:

  • "I'm going to mark you NUT-1 on the internationally recognized but tactlessly named scale of psychological normality: 'disgustingly healthy and levelheaded.' There, that was easy."

  • No sooner had we taken two steps toward the convent than another nun had come running out of the doors firing a small pistol and screaming at the top of her lungs that I was a procreating girl dog, but not using those precise words.

  • "Don't kill anyone until you find out who it is."

    "Hang on," he said. "I'm just writing myself a note: Don't ... kill ... anyone. Got it."


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Monday, May 18th, 2015


09:45 pm - Book: The Drift

In The Drift by Diana Dru Botsford, SG-1 are at the Ancient output in Antarctica. O'Neill, the local weapons chair expert -- the best in our galaxy, anyway -- has been asked to teach a group of international recruits and civilians how to use the chair. When one starts to operate it, however, an earthquake occurs and SG-1, along with the newbie, fall into a hole created by the quake. Unfortunately, outpost personnel are unable to get at them as a force field has sealed the hole. Earthquakes continue to be felt planet-wide. Clearly, they have something to do with the outpost, but what?

Elsewhere and elsewhen, Huang, a Dragon Guard of Lord Yu, attempts to infiltrate Apophis' jaffa ranks and, in doing so, finds himself on Earth, which he expected, but in Antarctica, which he did not expect. (Sound familiar?) He's helped, he's rescued, he's "returned" to China, he becomes the Chinese Ambassador to the US and tries to stick it to SG-1. But when that doesn't quite work out, he's committed to an asylum. And yet, he's the only one on the planet who can help repair the damage to the outpost.

The Drift is a sequel to Four Dragons and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Quote:

  • The corner of Teal'c's mouth tugged up in a faint smile. "When I was very young, my father told me that the burden of wrongful blame was a falsehood to oneself. One that places distance between what we believe to be true and who we really are, setting our soul adrift from its true purpose."


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Tuesday, May 5th, 2015


10:16 am - Movie: Ex Machina

The head of the world's most popular search engine invites one of his employess to his very remote, very secure research facility for a week-long study of his current project. In effect, the employee has been brought in to perform a Turing Test. But rather than type messages or talk on the phone, the employee interacts with the AI face to face, as it has been installed in an android body.

This is one of those movies where saying anything about what happens may affect your enjoyment, so I'll just say that it's very well done all around.

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02:38 am - Book: Forgotten History

Forogtten History, by Christopher L. Bennett, is both a prequel and sequel to Watching the Clock. While the story takes place some time later, the circumstances surrounding the foundation of the DTI play a part. A timeship appears out of nowhere, but nothing makes sense: the ship is from the past, its markings indicate it's from the present or future, but contained within is technology no one has every seen. Where did it come from and what is happening to the volume of space around the ship?

While I tried to read this book in large chunks, it didn't always work out. And when it didn't, my ability to keep track of all the timelines suffered. But even so, it was a fun ride and, as always, well woven into the Star Trek mythos. There's also an interesting point about the legend of a person versus the reality of a person, which I hope to ponder more.

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Tuesday, April 21st, 2015


10:00 pm - Book: The Hydrogen Sonata

The Gzilt civilization is very old. While it participated in the formation of what became The Culture, it decided not to join. Many year later, the Gzilt have decided it's time to Sublime, its members transitioning to non-corporeal form.

Subliming is an event of note. Other civilizations send representatives to bid farewell and sometimes reveal information: answers, secrets, perhaps even confessions. One civilization, itself Sublimed, left behind the answer to a question the Gzilt have been asking for generations. The inheritors of this answer felt it was important to send someone to the Gzilt to deliver it. Alas, the ship containing the answer was destroyed, though not before the answer could be collected. But with the equivalent of a chain of evidence now disturbed, there's no telling if the answer is real. Well, maybe one way. It turns out there's a person named QiRia who's quite old; old enough to have been around at the beginning of the Gzilt civilization. If anyone can verify the information, he can.

Enter Vyr Cossont, a musician whose life task is to perform a piece of music so outlandish that it was written for a hypothetical instrument. Vyr has the distinction of having spent several days with QiRia a few years back. Being a reservist makes it easy to reactivate her and give her a mission of utmost importance: to find QiRia and verify the information before the Gzilt Subblime in three weeks.

Between a demented ship, a rival faction among the Gzilt military, and the lengths QiRia has gone to in order to hide from others (and possibly himself), it's not going to be easy. But a few Culture ships band together to help. Can Vyr verify the information. And if so, is it good or bad news for the Gzilt?

With the passing of author Iain M. Banks, The Hydrogen Sonata is the last Culture book. While I will miss seeing more arrive at the bookstore, this is a fitting end to the series.

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Saturday, April 18th, 2015


12:35 am - Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella

Earlier this week, I saw the Rodgers and Hammerstein Cinderella musical. I had been on the fence for quite a while, and now that I've seen it, I feel foolish for hesitating. It's beautiful, well written and, yes, magical.

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