Plague Strikes!

December 30, 2008

At my house.  Yup, I’m sick.  In case my 3 regular readers were wondering what happened to me, I decided to fight my way through the haze of cold medicine to post this little update.  I will post again when I am feeling better or manage to stay awake long enough to finish reading a book and blog about, whichever comes first.  And may you not be struck by the plague at your house.


Free Fiction

December 26, 2008

Ok, so it’s not science fiction.  But anytime an author shares their work with the public just to share, it is worth a mention.  This book is a horror novella by Brian Knight called Heart of a Monster.  Mr. Knight is apparently sharing some of his previously published works with the general population for free at his website brian-knight.com.  Right now this is the only work available for free, but he indicates others will follow.  I haven’t read it yet (I’m still working my way through Chirstmas books), but I checked out some reviews that indicated it is worth the time to read it.  Thanks to The Undead Rat for showing the way to this find.


Star Wars The Musical?!

December 26, 2008

Seriously.  I read an article about it in the St Petersburg Times on Christmas Day.  My initial response was WHAT THE ****?!?!?!  Are you kidding me?!?!?!

However, I then read past the title of the article.  The show is actually called Star Wars: A Musical Journey, and it is not a musical per se.  It is going to be 2 hours of clips from all 6 movies with accompaniment by the Royal Philharmonic of London.  There will also be an exhibit with props, artwork, models, and costumes from the movies.  While I am not a Star Wars uber-fan by any stretch, I can see where such fans might enjoy this show.  It is apparently a live version of a video made in 2005, now available at IMDb (click here to see it).

The show opens April 10th, 2009 in London as the start of a European tour.  As of yet there is no American tour scheduled, but I imagine it will only be a matter of time.


Merry Christmas!

December 25, 2008

Just a quick post – in addition to my new Nano (yippee!) I also got some new sci fi books.  Reviews of Idoru by William Gibson and A Scanner Darkly by Phillip K. Dick will be along just as soon as I can read them.

I hope you are all having a great Christmas, or whatever holiday you celebrate.


Angry Ghosts – Allen Farnham

December 23, 2008

Ok, this is another one from Authonomy.  It suffers less from the lack of formal editing than some I’ve read there.  The grammar and spelling are fine (some on the site have major issues in that area) though it could still use a little more polish, mainly because it has several abrupt transitions that need to be smoothed out a little.

The story starts off with a fantastic first chapter, which describes the annihilation of the human race at the hands of a mysterious race of blue-skinned aliens.  The aliens were not after conquest, they had simply observed humanity, which was starting to colonize other planets in our solar sytem, and decided we were too aggressive and war-like.  So they decided to strike first and exterminate humans completely, to prevent a future war.

Now skip ahead some 900 years.  A small group of humans on a far outpost struggle to survive, living on an asteroid whose resources they have long since stripped.  They are a small group, with numerous genetic defects from not having enough genes in the pool to start with.  They are a military society that has been gentically enhanced to be bigger, faster, smarter, and stronger, and they are brutally ruthless in taking what they need from the enemy that thinks it exterminated their entire race.  Individuals are classed by the job they do, with every person, even those with defects, doing work necessary to the survival of the whole.  The main characters are Thompson, Argo, and Maiella, an Operator team that goes out on “collection” missions to hijack enemy ships.  They operate in complete secrecy, using guerilla ambush tactics to snatch ships for needed resources.  Every member of their group is entirely devoted to survival at any cost, and their only law is that one will not harm another human or allow a human to be harmed.

When the aliens they have been hijacking start fighting back with a new stealth technology, the humans, who call themselves the Cadre, have to adapt fast or risk the destruction of the last remnants of humanity.

Any more would spoil the story for you.  I really enjoyed this book, particularly the main characters who are well rounded and fleshed out.  It has some decent action scenes too.  I also like the glimpses into the alien culture early in the book, showing the division in their society over the decision to exterminate humanity.  It sets up some interesting story lines for the next book.  Oh, yes, I forgot to mention this is the first book in a series.  Go check it out, and explore the Authonomy site while you’re at it.


Aliens on Earth?

December 22, 2008

Check out this creature from the deep at Pink Tentacle.  Although, technically, it is a lot of creatures working together in specialized functions to make a complete organism capable of surviving.  If you imagine it in space instead of the ocean depths, it’s not hard to see it as an alien.  Heck, even in the ocean it’s not hard to see it as an alien.  It is definitely alien to me.

Also, I’m curious as to who videoed it.  Was it an umanned sub, or did someone actually go down to 770m (2526 ft) below the surface to look around.  I would volunteer for that job! (I’m a scuba diver and I love deep dives – of course in scuba gear the pressure at that depth would crush a person instantly, but I could go in a sub.)


Woo-hoo!

December 22, 2008

I figured out how to make them thar’ fancy links!  Now, for those of you who actually read my posts, go check out the  wiki article on the real Charles Babbage and his Difference Engine.


The Difference Engine – Gibson and Sterling

December 21, 2008

If you pick up a previously unknown (to you) book by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, you would expect it to be science fiction, right?  Maybe of the cyber punk variety, but science fiction none the less.  Well, it’s not.

The Difference Engine, by William Gibson of Neuromancer and Virtual Light fame, and Bruce Sterling of Schismatrix reknown, is an historical retelling.  It is a very interesting and well written work, although the 19th century British lingo is hard to wade through at times for an American girl like me.  It does involve a small degree of science fiction in that it assumes the British inventor Charles Babbage successfully completed his Difference Engine, an early computing device, and even his Analytical Engine, which is an actual computer (though nothing like the computers we use today in terms of speed or computational power) and that instead of falling out of favor in the social and political scene, he helped usher in a new era.  Based on this framework, the book describes a how the world might have been different, including an Industrial Radical Party in control of Britain.   Hmm, the more I talk about it, the more I convince myself it is science fiction.  Sort of.  My hubby informs me it is steam punk, a new genre which follows the basic tenets of cyber punk but in an historical setting rather than a futuristic one.  Moving on.

The Engines are run using cards with holes punched in different patterns, and are developed into a comprehensive system for keeping track of people.  All people.  Like a social security number, tied to everything a person does from birth, with files on each individual.  Now, the cards are the most important part of the process, because they are how “clackers” – people who run the Engines – write new programs to tell the Engines what to do, and how data is compressed and stored. 

This is the background.  The actual story is more of a thriller/mystery/espionage.  A special set of cards with unknown capabilities floats around through the plot, in various hands at various times, with everyone involved willing to kill to have them.  There are also political intrigues and regime changes and even a sort of gestapo called Special Branch, which is able to make people disappear by kidnapping them and erasing their number and file, as if they never existed.  The authors also manage to work in quite a few real historical figures.

It is a different take on sci fi, but an interesting read if you don’t mind slogging through the British-ese.  (I intend no offense to any Brits who might view this post.  You might in fact find it an easy read.)

the-difference-engine1


More Science that’s NOT Fiction

December 20, 2008

I am visiting at my grandparents this weekend, and of course I had to borrow their computer.  My grandmother has AOL set up to start automatically, which I normally don’t like (since I don’t care for AOL-too busy, gives me a headache looking at their screens), but this time I’m glad it popped up.  Because right there, on the opening page with the news, was an article about bionic humans.  Seriously.  It wasn’t a very good article, just a blurb really, but it caught myattention.  So I closed out AOL and did a search for “bionic human”.  I found all kinds of stuff. 

Cochlear implants, bionic devices that allow many deaf people to hear, have become accepted by most people despite imitial resistance to them (there is still some resistance from the deaf community where some feel their culture is under attack by the hearing world).

Currently on the market from Berkley Bionics is a bionic exoskeleton that enables an average person to carry heavy loads – up to 150 lbs. – on their back for extended distances without the fatigue normally associated with travelling that far, designed for use by soldiers and relief workers who often have to move through rough terrain on foot, seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=EdK2y3lphmE

Rsearchers at University of Newcastle are ready to start trials for a bionic eye to restore sight to people who could see previously.  The implant will send signals to the brain that will then be interpreted the same way signals from the retina were before the eye was damaged.  Read the article at http://www.gizmag.com/go/2144/.  This type of binic eye would only restore partial sight, however other bionic eye projects underway aim to actually use electronic contacts that transmit data into the brain would not only restore full sight but would give much better vision than any “normal” person has, and the electronic signal could be downloaded for others to see as well.

There are also numerous articles about other projects that are in the works – check out www.science-spirit.org/archive_cm_detail.php?new_id=44 , www.livescience.com/technology/top10-bionic-tech.html , and www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/02/020208080141.htm .  The Live Science article is particularly interesting as it lists ten different areas in which bionics are making significant advances – including artificial kidneys and pancreas.  A solution for diabetes? (One of these days I’ll figure out how to put the name of the site in so that you can click on it to go there, like all them fancy blogs do.  Gimme a break, I’ve only been doing this a week.) 

What I gathered from all this is that upgradable humans are right around the corner.  Sure, at first the technology will be just for people who are disabled in some way.  But how long before that technology that gives blind people sight through implanted video cameras is used to upgrade someone who just doesn’t want to wear glasses anymore, or even someone who just wants the recording ability for their own use (there are serious military applications there).  And right now the bionic exoskeleton is highly visible and highly expensive, but what happens when it is unobtrusive and can be easily mass produced?  Could it be another solution for the global transportation problem?  And I’m not even going to get into the bionic limbs. 

I personally am okay with upgrading humans (I want gills!), but what happens when the backlash from the conservative “pure human” movement starts?  We all know it will happen.  Will our governments and legislation be able to keep up with technology?  So far we don’t have a good track record on that one.  Again, I think some books have been written about that…


Defending “Young Adult” books

December 19, 2008

There is a great rant about the bad press young adult books have been getting lately at http://sarahockler.com/2008/12/19/ya-books-boring-uncomplicated-preachy-the-new-yorker-thinks-so/.  I agree with her wholeheartedly.  There are quite a few YA books out there that are very well written and complex.  And honestly, even the ones that do have simpler plots and straightforward styles have there place.  Let’s not forget they are written for young people who may not have a taste for fine literature yet.  I was drawn into reading by some simple good vs. evil type stories as a kid (The Dark is Rising, for example) then moved on to more complex works as I got older.  And just because the morals are simple and uncomplicated doesn’t mean the stories themselves are.  A Wizard of Earthsea , The Chronicles of Narnia, Out of the Silent Planet – all have your basic theme of the ongoing battle between good and evil but are very good, well written, and layered stories if you bother to really pay attention to them.  And, to me at least, they were a good lead in to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, The Left Hand of Darkness, Stranger In A Strange Land, etc, leading eventually to my current (and pretty vast) reading list.  They helped me learn to really enjoy books, to see the characters as friends, and to immerse myself in their world.

I admit I am not up on today’s young adult scene, literary or otherwise, with the exception of the Harry Potter and Eragon series.  But to dismiss the genre as a whole seems foolish.  And some of the books Ms Ockler cites in her rant as examples of good YA literature do sound very interesting.  I will be adding several of them to my reading list.  The Hunger Games in particular sounds right up my alley and will probably be top of the list.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.