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On Saturday, I had a dinner party. It was one I had sold in a Rotary auction as a fundraising item. One of my fellow Rotarians, Joan Wayman, brought the dessert and I cooked the ribeyes. The event went over well.

On Sunday, I did a bit of writing and then watched this week's episode of The Orville. The show is still trying to find itself. I like a lot of Seth McFarlane's worldbuilding in this series. So far, humans don't have transporters and there are two enemy races, one of which is so much more powerful that the Planetary Union is willing to write off a ship's captain and XO rather than attempt a rescue. I also find a lot of the crew interactions more entertaining then typical. There's a "we're real people" feel to them, if a bit less military-like then one would expect from a fleet. Lastly, the ending of this episode really saved it.

Having said that, I still struggled with much of the plot. The green Lieutenant was too green, the ex-married couple fell back into the old ways too easily and were too passive. In short, this episode again felt more like a live-action cartoon than a live show.

I am alive

Sep. 11th, 2017 02:51 pm
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I am in fact alive, just finding myself not having a lot to say. There is nothing particular I wish to add to my previous remarks on 9/11, so I won't. I'll confine myself to lighter topics.

Specifically, The Orville, FOX's new SF series. I watched it last night (on DVR-delay, of course) and found it, well, odd. There were more than a few humorous moments, but this was not a comedy. It was more like a live-action cartoon than anything I've seen recently. I'll give it a few episodes.
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It speaks ill of my current schedule that I look forward to long airline flights in order to read a book. Having said that, herewith are my thoughts on two short books (novellas) that I read flying back from Puerto Rico.


The first book, Breathe by Douglas Van Belle, was pressed in my hands by a rather urgent fellow at last year's Worldcon in Kansas City. I now know that the fellow was the author, and the book was self-published. It languished in my to-be-read pile for some time, finally surfacing. I found the book merely okay.

The plot is this - a dozen or so construction types are building a habitat on Ganymede to support a larger follow-on group. Karl, the group's mechanic, highly socially inept, attempts to engineer a small disaster so he can get some alone time with Zoey, a woman he's smitten with. Karl's disaster gets way out of hand, two people die immediately and the rest are trapped in shelters running out of oxygen. Karl then tries to engineer their way out. His efforts lead to the humans being hunted by a swarm of killer robots.

The science in this book is hard, and the characters are more-or-less believable. (Some of the men are a bit wonky.) The real problem is that the last two-thirds of the book is a bloodbath, and nothing in the marketing or first third gives any warning of this.

All Systems Red The Murderbot Diaries

Martha Well's novella All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries has, like Breathe, murderous AI robots. Ironically, despite the title, All Systems Red is a much less blood-thirsty book. In this novella, the narrator, the titular Murderbot, is a security robot that has hacked its own governor and is self-aware. He also just wants to watch TV.

Unfortunately, he's been assigned a security gig with a survey team on a planet, and when the planet and other teams start trying to kill his charges, he has to actually do his job. Which he does in an entertaining manner. I was also taken with the ending, that's a bit of a twist.

Much has been said about the death of conventional publishing. These two novellas are the clearest case I've seen in a while for the need for conventional publishing.
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Like the label says, links!

A) The Advantage of Being a Little Underemployed. From the link: Before 1900 the average American worker worked more than 60 hours a week. A standard schedule was ten-hour days, six days a week. The only structural limits to working were lighting and religion. You stopped working when it was too dark to see or to go to church. Or shorter, you worked from "can" to "can't."

B) A bit late, but still good - the story of D-Day on Omaha Beach.

C) Wonder Woman: How real-life athletes united to populate the film's badass Amazon nation.

D) A more humorous take on Wonder Woman - Alamo Drafthouse Apologizes for Starting Manpocalypse With Women-Only Screening.
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Saturday was a quiet day at Casa Gerrib Norte. The excitement of the day was my attendance at an early-evening screening of Wonder Woman. It was a very enjoyable movie, although the last few minutes of the epic battle between the Big Bad and Our Heroine was a bit tedious. Overall, I highly recommend seeing it.

Sunday was for me also quiet, although one of my downstate relatives had a (very minor) heart attack, so I was getting several updates during the day. In part due to the miracle of modern medicine and the nature of the attack, said relative was sent home after less than 24 hours of hospitalization. Go modern medicine!

Now, if I could just find some time and energy to write, all would be well in the world.
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You might be busy if you look forward to an airplane flight in economy because it gives you time to read a book. I have recently found myself in just such a situation, and I read two books. Herewith are thoughts.

Book #1 Cold Welcome: Vatta's Peace

The latest space opera from Elizabeth Moon and start of a new series, this book takes off with Kylara Vatta, hero, returning to her home world. Rather than getting a hero's welcome, her shuttle is sabotaged and she is marooned on an "uninhabited" and frozen continent. Although it carries forward characters from the Vatta's War series, it's completely free-standing. It's also a fascinating tale of survival and intrigue. I have to admit I felt the books' end was a bit "to be continued" but that may just be me. Highly recommended.

Book #2 At the End of the World: A True Story of Murder in the Arctic

Continuing the cold theme (doubly ironic in that I was flying to and from 90-degree hot and humid Orlando Florida), this book promises much and delivers little. The promise is to be a riveting story of a murder in a remote village in Canada's arctic Hudson Bay region. It's not very riveting. The murders which take place in 1941 are mundane, caused by a couple of local Inuit people who get a twisted idea of Christianity. This fairly straightforward tale is randomly interspersed with memories of the author's visit to the region just before, during and after 9/11. It left me cold.
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One of the advantages of going to science fiction conventions is that you learn of books you'd never otherwise hear of. In this case, the book was Little Green Men - Attack!, which is a (mostly) humorous collection of short stories featuring, well, little green men.

I learned of the anthology when Martin Shoemaker read his short story "Meet the Landlord." In it, humans have colonized Mars and 30-some years after that "Martians" show up looking for back rent. It was hilarious. Most of the stories were funny, although in "First Million Contacts" the joke was on the humans. In every anthology, there's a story that's the exception to the rule, which in this case was Steven H. Silver's "Big White Men - Attack!" in which the green dust kicked up by Armstrong an Aldrin on the moon isn't dust at all.

This is the third anthology that I've read which was assembled by Bryan Thomas Schmidt, and I've enjoyed them all. Schmidt is becoming a mark of quality for me, and I recommend his stuff.
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I recently had the opportunity to read Alex Wells' debut novel Hunger Makes The Wolf. It was a really great read.

On my radio interview (rebroadcasting April 21-23) I said what I liked about science fiction was the classic theme of the Western, namely, take some ordinary people, drop them in the middle of nowhere, and hand them an extraordinary problem. With science fiction as opposed to Westerns, that "nowhere" can be a lot of different places.

With Hunger Makes the Wolf, Wells does the Western thing but more literally. His story is set on Tanegawa’s World, a dry and dusty mining colony, described with a geologist's eye. (Wells' day job is as a geologist, and I met Wells at Worldcon.) Hob Ravani, a young woman and orphan, has become a member of the Ghost Wolves, a band of mercenaries / outlaws. Hob also has "witchiness" which in her case manifests itself in the ability to make fire.

This witchiness, we learn, has an unknown but presumably scientific explanation, tied into peculiarities of the planet she's on. Peculiarities which may have something to do with The Weathermen, the "humans" who enable Transrift, the company with a monopoly on FTL travel, to do what they do. Needless to say, the company is up to no good, and has been for some time.

Wells' characters are realistic if hard-bitten, and the whole thing left me waiting for the sequel. Highly recommended.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
It's a Monday. My website WAS up over the weekend, but Hostgator seems to have broken it again. Yippee Kay Ay, and time to move. I hear GoDaddy does a better job.

In other news, I went to Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Friday to watch Love's Labor's Lost. In this version, the creative staff went out of their way to highlight how immature men can be versus women. Since the play was written 400+ years ago, I guess things never change.

I also attended the 50th birthday party for one of my high school classmates. She has a large group of friends, most of which aren't known to me, so I ended up hanging with another classmate and her husband. It was a good time.

In political news, I watched 60 Minutes and noticed how Mariane Le Pen is another fan of Russia. I have thoughts about this (not all bad, mind you) which I shall expound upon anon.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
Like the label on the tin says:

1) This Friday, S. Evan Townsend will be featuring me on his podcast "Speculative Fiction Cantina." Link when I have it.

2) This Saturday, an interview with me will be on The IndieView.

3) Over the weekend, I read a great book: Warnings Unheeded: Twin Tragedies at Fairchild AFB. The book is written by the Air Force policeman who stopped a mass shooting by killing the shooter with a pistol at 70 yards. It's about how the mass shooter came to be as well as how, a week later, a B-52 practicing for an air show plowed into the ground doing an unsafe maneuver. No spoilers - both events were preceded by many unheeded warnings.

4) On climate change - our memories can be unreliable. I was in Chicago in 1999 and don't remember a particularly warm February.

5) Why don't many racist people think they're racist?. Answer: Because they probably aren't racist. Saying or doing something racist and being a racist is not the same thing.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
Over the weekend I read the latest novel from Chuck Gannon, the book Caine's Mutiny. It's very good, classic space opera that's been updated for our times. I say that but ironically this novel has a number of people who've been hibernating from our 20th Century. It also has aliens, real and "unreal." What follows may be a bit of a spoiler.

There has been throughout SF, going back to the 1890s, a concept of "re-contact." Basically, sometime in our pre-technological past, aliens showed up on Earth and took humans off-planet, and now in the "present" we Earthlings run into our off-planet cousins. It can make for an interesting story, which Gannon is telling here.

Having said that, this book feels like a hinge book in a trilogy. The story is almost complete, but there are several loose ends left dangling and clearly awaiting the next book. I enjoyed this one and wish to tell Dr. Gannon to write faster.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
Over the weekend, I went to see the new SF movie The Space Between Us. In part, this is based on my theory that if you want more non-reboots or non-comicbook SF movies you have to support the ones that come out with the only thing that counts, money. Also in part, I'm a sucker for Mars.

At any rate, I attended said movie. The cinematography was beautiful, and well, that's probably the best I could say about it. As you can tell from the trailers, the basic plot is a kid is born on the first Mars colony then comes to Earth where he breaks free of his handlers.

What you can't tell is that the kid's birth and existence is kept as a secret for 16 years. This seems highly implausible, as by the time he comes back the Mars colony seems to have grown to 50+ people, many of them scientists shuttling back and forth. Oh, and in this movie, the speed of light is infinite, while space transport in the 16 years from the first colony to the kid's return hasn't changed a lick.

Now, the movie isn't all bad. The ending isn't quite standard Hollywood, and there is a well-played bit of mystery as to who the kid's dad is. This is diluted by our kid being a bit too naive about Earth. (There are TVs in the future.) All in all, okay at best, which is a shame, since the low box office will be used to bash other original SF movies.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
I purchased and read Forbidden Thoughts, the much-hyped book from Sad Puppies Central Command. For the most part, I found it neither forbidden nor thoughtful. Rather, it was heavy-handed to the point of immobility, (mostly) poorly-written and consistently poorly edited. A couple of stories saved this book from the shame of a one-star review, but only barely.

There were several non-fiction articles in the book, all but the introduction being recycled blog postings from the Big Three of Sad Puppydom, Tom Kratman, Larry Correia and Brad R. Torgersen. The postings were heavy-handed diatribes when written, and age has done them no favors. Yiannopoulos phoned in a semi-original introduction, but his idea that Science Fiction is under attack by the Evil Left is unoriginal and remains unsupported by such trifles as fact.

On the fiction side, most of the short stories take a favorite right-wing strawman, dial it to 15, then use it to beat the reader vigorously about the head and shoulders. Chief offender was “At the Edge of Detachment” by A. M. Freeman. There, a parent can have their child killed up to the age of 13 – an “allegory” of abortion. Other stories were similarly ham-fisted, and most were unreadable.

Having said that, there were a couple of readable short stories. If that sounds like damning with faint praise, so be it. Notable shorts:

World Ablaze by Jane Lebak – for some reason, Catholics are being persecuted and arrested by the State. If you can swallow that, the story works fairly nicely.

Amazon Gambit by Vox Day – here, the author sets up an all-female military unit that, For Reasons, must fight a primitive enemy hand-to-hand. They win, although it takes a male officer to show the Poor Girls what is needed.

Test of the Prophet by L. Jagi Lamplighter – This story, if given a decent editor, would be commercially viable in any market. A woman born and raised in Pakistan, who moved to America and became a US Marine, needs to go back to Pakistan because her beloved cousin has gotten himself mixed up in the Taliban. We learn (almost too late – a good editor would have frontloaded this) that the woman can see ghosts. We learn (in an entertaining but 10% too long and talky) section that one of the things said ghosts have been up to is inserting errors into every religion’s doctrine. Again, not bad at all.

So, no, I really don’t recommend Forbidden Thoughts, especially if one wants, you know, actually forbidden thoughts.

Rogue One

Dec. 20th, 2016 11:44 am
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
Speaking of great disturbances in the Force, on Friday I took in the new Star Wars movie Rogue One. It's really, really good. It's amazing how one could take a throwaway line from one movie ("Many Bothans died getting us this information" ETA: the Bothans died finding out the second Death Star. I regret the error.) and create this much action.

Like everybody says, this is dark movie, with a fairly dark ending. There were kids in the audience at my showing, but it's not targeted at them at all. It's a straight-up war movie, with the grit and the body-count to go with that.

The visuals were spectacular with two exceptions - the CGI additions of the late Peter Cushing and a young Carrie Fisher. They were both just a bit off visually and in Cushing's case vocally as well. I think I would have skipped Fisher and had Cushing just appear in holograms. Other than that, I really enjoyed the movie.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
I did not watch President-elect Trump's interview with 60 Minutes, instead watching the new movie Arrival. More on the movie anon.

On reading the transcript of Trump's interview, I noted that "deport all 11 million illegals" has morphed to "deport the 2 or 3 million criminals." That number still sounds high, but it's a notable reduction from 11 million. I also note that Clinton is suddenly a "nice person" and staying on one's parents health insurance is okay. In short, on every single one of Trump's policy proposals he's backpedaling! Tell me again why we elected this guy. As one of my former Captains put it, "surprises are for birthdays and it's not mine."

Also, at work today several people wondered why Americans were protesting Trump's election. I remember all the way back to 2008 and the Tea Party's lament about "wanting their country back." I restrained myself from commenting.

In other news, I saw the movie Arrival. It's an intelligent aliens invade movie, with solid characters and actual thought. There's even some science involved! I highly recommend seeing it.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
I hope you're having a happy International Dress Like a Streetwalker Day, the holiday formerly known as Halloween. Here at my office, I decided to dress like a Rotarian, in part because I have a Rotary meeting today. That'll show them! ;-)

In other news, this weekend was quiet. A Democratic operative rang my doorbell on Saturday and we chatted briefly. I lied to her and said I was voting straight Democratic. I'm probably not - we have a race for Comptroller in Illinois which has become a proxy between the Republican governor and an entirely-too-powerful Democratic Speaker of the House. I'm probably voting Republican in that one race in hopes that both sides get the idea that compromise is good.

In other political news, I see the Clinton emails are back, via Anthony Weiner, the gift that keeps on giving. If Clinton were half as evil as her opponents claim she was, Weiner and his laptop would be sleeping with the fishes on the bottom of the East River. Here in the Land of Reality, she's just another politician and Weiner lives. I'm sure somebody somewhere will change their vote on this news, but I doubt it will be enough to matter.

I've been watching the Cubs in the World Series, which for me means "the TV's on and I'm in the same room as the TV." I actually got about 1,000 words written during last night's game, and during Saturday's game I finished the third book in the Three Body Problem trilogy, Death's End. I hereby officially call it weird. Interesting, but weird. I'm not a fan of the dark forest theory, about which I'll write more anon.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
Over the weekend, I took in the new movie Deepwater Horizon, about the disaster on the oil drilling rig of the same name. I found it well worth my time, and highly recommend it to everybody.

The movie takes place on the few hours before and during the blowout and fire. In a quiet scene before The Big Kaboom (tm) Mark Wahlberg's character is talking to a senior executive from BP. Wahlberg says that (of the rig) "your plan is to run out of gas when the wheels hit the runway. That's not a plan. Hope is not a plan."

Words to live by.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
From the Land of the Brave

I'm glad to see that here in the Land of the Brave we get wall-to-wall TV coverage every time some mope puts a pipe bomb in a trash can. Would that we get half of that for the 50+ people shot and killed every day.

Culture Update

Over the weekend, I took in the very funny play Don't Dress for Dinner. It's a sex farce, very amusingly done by the local Buffalo Theatre Ensemble who perform at College of DuPage.

Hillbilly Elegy

Also over the weekend, I read Hillbilly Elegy. It's by J. D. Vance, a second-generation hillbilly who grew up in Ohio. The book is a case study in why some people (black or white) seem to stay impoverished: they lack the skills and social support to do anything but be poor. It served as a refresher lesson to me - others may find it new information.
chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
A couple of thoughts on the occasion of going back to work after Labor Day.

Thought #1 - Dragon Awards

The Dragon Awards were announced over the weekend. Congratulations to the winners listed here. The list is not whom I would have picked, but it's not the first or the last time somebody wins an award I didn't agree with. (Ask me about Hugo-winner The Windup Girl.)

Thought #2 - Why Labor Day

In most of the world, the holiday for labor is May 1. We celebrate Labor Day in September because the Communists had claimed May 1.

Thought #3 - A Good Book

I was a member of the Kickstarter for the new anthology Alien Artifacts. I read my copy over the weekend and enjoyed it immensely. I highly recommend you getting a copy.

chris_gerrib: (Me 2)
I will be driving to KCMO (Kansas City, Missouri) tomorrow to attend MidAmericon 2, the 74th World Science Fiction Convention. Postings will be light and variable. Or maybe heavy, you never know.

In the meantime, my first novel The Mars Run got a very nice, detailed and well-thought-out review. In that review, Ellie Maloney notes However, it seemed to me that Janet was not fully in touch with her emotions, as if compartmentalizing her circumstances and relating the story to the reader in a somewhat removed manner.

Some of that "compartmentalizing" is frankly unintentional. This is a first novel, and I made several first novel errors. First person POV, for one, which is a lot harder than it looks. My other error was, I think, subjecting the POV character to too much trauma. For victims of abuse, the novel can be triggering, even though this version of the book was rewritten to reduce the amount of trauma.

Despite that, I personally like The Mars Run, and I think the right reader will like it too.


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