Review: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

In the future, corporations will rule everything and crafted drugs will help people achieve many things. Those on the fringe will fight against this same world. From this description, Autonomous by Annalee Newitz would seem like another rip off William Gibson’s Neuromancer, but it’s more than that.

Based in the year 2144, this story tells of a pirate drug maker,  who reverse engineers patented drugs and then sells on the cheap. When an issue is found with the drug, the race is on. With the help of other pharmaceutical patent pirates, an escaped indentured human, and a robot, she will try to find a cure. Hot on her heels is an Intellectual Property Police office, partnered by a brain encased in a robot’s carapace.

What I found interesting was the interaction between technologies. For those into computers, the concept that all machines identify both parties and start and end data is one that rings true. That’s where Autonomous is done very well. All the ideas put forward in this story appear to be extrapolated from current ideas. Given Newitz’s background in technology and science journalism, this is hardly surprising.

The only problem that I really felt was the development of the world itself. Granted the scenes are well written, but some locations felt that they were just names, without much difference to other locations. The locations in Africa felt much the same as those in Canada. But this is a minor qualm. 

This is a good book, from a writer whose fiction will certainly be worth watching in the future.

Review: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss

In the lead up to the 2018 Nebula Awards, our sci-fi and fantasy guru Shaun Taylor reviews the nominees.

When read a story, we assume that what the author is telling us, is the truth. But what would happen if a number of classic stories were wrong ?

Theodora Goss plays with this premise really well in The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter. The adult daughter of Dr Henry Jekyll begins to investigate her father’s strange associate. Along the way, she teams us with a number of females who are the results of various experiments. Along the way, Goss brings into the question the narrative of four classic horror stories. She applies the approach to her own narrative as well, as the main characters interrupt the flow to bicker about what is being written about them and the events they experience.

The 1890s London in this novel is filled with the cabs, poverty and opulance that the modern reader has come to expect of stories from this time. Goss manages to bring this setting to life, both in terms of the physical descriptions, as well as the social and political aspects, with characters bickering about the issues of the day.

This is a pleasant romp of a story that covers familiar ground, with a wink and nod, and its intrusions add to the fun of the novel. For those interested in the genre, this will be an enjoyable novel. For those are are not familiar with the stories referenced, it maybe a little confusing. I did have to Google one of the stories myself, so don’t feel bad and stick with it – it’s a fun read.

Review: The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

In the lead up to the 2018 Nebula Awards, our sci-fi and fantasy guru Shaun Taylor reviews the nominees.

In the final installment of Broken Earth, N.K. Jemisin presents an incredible vision of the end or rebirth of the planet.
With Essun and Nassun – Mother and Daughter – against each other, the clock is ticking for each race across this apocalyptic landscape. The narration jumps between the two, with each character’s chapter being told in different tenses. Essun’s is told first person, present tense, while Nassun is third person, past tense.

While this does help differentiate the characters, and makes Essun’s story a little more personal, I found it a little unsettling until I got into the swing of things. The story of the two women is also broken up by a third story in the voice of the novel. Without giving too much away, the novel does reveal that the two strands of the novel are actually being told by the same person.  I found the interjections from this voice to tie the stories together a little intrusive, knocking me briefly out of the world of the novel. That didn’t last for long though – the rest of the world created here is so well described and inhabited, that I was soon back in the swing of things.

Overall, this is a good closing to a trilogy. The world, and the use of geology for magic are both interesting and well handled by Jemisin.

Review: Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly

In the lead up to the 2018 Nebula Awards, our sci-fi and fantasy guru Shaun Taylor reviews the nominees.

In 1920s Europe, the atmosphere was filled with the possibilites of revolution, and the sounds of the Cabaret. This time of intrigue and music have been captured by Lara Elena Donnelly’s Amberlough.

Starting with a spy leaving his show business / smuggler lover, the intrigue and the tension of the period is slowly ratcheted in Donnelly’s alternate Weimar Republic.

Most of this action is based around Cyril DePaul, a spy reluctant to get back into the field, and his lover Aristide Makricosta, a theatre preformer of many skills.

Donnelly’s world is well realised, with its own slang and inner consistency. It is the factions and their names that I had trouble keeping track of. All seem to be lacking a basic motivation as well. However, given that this is being advertised as part 1 of a series, hopefully this will be realised in later volumes.

I do look forward to reading more of this series, and from the author more broadly. 

Review: Jade City by Fonda Lee

In the lead up to the 2018 Nebula Awards, our sci-fi and fantasy guru Shaun Taylor reviews the nominees.

In Jade City, Fonda Lee has created a wonder of a gangster action novel. Taking place in the city of Janloon – which feels like a Hong Kong of action movies – it tells of a war between two gangster factions, and of the control of Jade, which grants its user’s powers. 

Lee’s style is very visual, and I often found myself seeing this is in anime rather than motion. Action sequences are frenetic, with green magic being thrown and blocked by combatants. But this is not a world of super anti-heroes. What we have is a glimpse into a city that gets caught up in the war. There are business owners, government officals and small time hoods trying to survive or end the carnage that erupts in the city.

The main focus of the action is the Kaul family, rulers of one of the clans. This helps keeps the cast of characters down to the ‘must have a list of players’ that is often found in fantasy novels. Having said that, some of the minors characters seem a little underwhelming.

For readers not familiar with the tradition in some asian countries of placing the family name first, there could be confusion as you think all the family are called Kaul. However, the depth of Lee’s creation ensures this is soon forgotten.

As a person who spent their younger days watching Hong Kong films and anime, this novel is one of the best at grabbing the feel of these two genres. 

Review: Six Wakes By Mur Lafferty

In the lead up to the 2018 Nebula Awards, our sci-fi and fantasy guru Shaun Taylor reviews the nominees.

To start with, I will declare that I am regular listener to Mur Lafferty’s podcast “I Should Be Writing“.

In the future, the technology exists to “print” bodies – called clones – and to them imprint them with the recording of the host’s body. These recordings can be hacked and changed to suit a purpose. From this basic premise, Lafferty creates a murder mystery on a mulit-generational ship.

When a number of clones “wake” to discover their previous versions slaughtered, and no memory recordings for the last couple of decades, the tension in the ship increases. Each clone tries to learn not only who they are, but who they could become. This premise could easily have ended up as a version of the show “Dark Matters”, but Lafferty plays with her topic creatively.

She keeps the pace moving at a tense rate, with the occasional flashback character giving insight to motivations and events that do actually affect the outcome. What Lafferty does really well, is set up the logic and limitations of the technology and doesn’t move away from it, giving the narraration a greater sense of realism.

For me, the only drawbacks were the flashback chapters – much of the information could have been given by characters as the story progresses. Also by keeping the story on the craft, it would have added a sense of claustrophobia to novel.

Overall, a good book, and one that I will revisit if the opportunity presents itself.

Book Review: The View from the Cheap Seats

Neil Gaiman is one of those authors that can make any other writer can blanch when comparing their own work with his. From novels and comic books, to even writing screenplay adaptations, he is a highly accomplished author and it would be no surprise if even more of his work was adapted into TV and film in the coming year – I’m already counting the days until American Gods premieres.

I’m breaking into a sweat even thinking about writing a review of of anything Gaiman has written – let alone a book collecting amongst other things his own reviews of other people’s work.

The View from the Cheap Seats is a typical Gaiman creation in that there’s a lot more to it than is evident on a quick peruse. This is one of those collections that you won’t necessarily want to read from from to back in one sitting, and nor do you need to given the varied content broken up into discreet sections. There are reviews of movies, discussions on relationships with other authors and artists, thoughts on science fiction and comics. For mine, the first section is one of the best: thoughts on the importance of libraries, bookshops and Halloween to name three topics. That said, Gaiman’s ability to engage works equally as well in the non-fiction realm and I haven’t been tempted to skip chapters on topics of little interest.

If you’re after a book of essays that are written with skill and passion, then definitely give The View From The Cheap Seats a go. If you’re looking for wild fantasy you won’t find it, but in its place you’ll fine something equally as satisfying.

 

Why We Hate Internet Providers: Example #74737282

Maybe Optus NBN is designed for laptops like this?

Just had to share this:

1. Buy new phone from Optus Store

2. Get phone home and connect it to computer.

3. Message says OS on the new phone is too old to allow transfer of apps / data from old phone backup.

Read: we sold you stock that’s been sitting here a while and Apple have released two updates since then, one of which killed a lot of people’s phone batteries if they dared to use a phone older than the one you purchased today.

4. Start to download update – using Optus NBN Fibre to the Premises 100/40 connection i.e. an NBN connection as fast (and expensive) as you can get in Australia at present.

5. Notice that download is going slow. Stop download and do speed test. Surprise surprise, 4MBps download speeds as has occurred anytime between 8am and 2am the next morning over the past three weeks. Upload speed at 35 MBps.

6. Call Optus. They get me to do a factory reset and allegedly do something their end as well. Now get 10MBps downloads at best. Optus person makes out it’s a great improvement at 10% of what I optimally should be getting (and have gotten close to previously). Am told that there is indeed congestion issues at the exchange , and that they will contact me when resolved (yeah right).

So now I wait for 4 hours to download a software update for an Optus-purchased product on a massively sub-standard Optus NBN connection. Royal Commission anyone?

Oxygene 3: An Unexpected Masterpiece

oxygene3Ahh, sequels. A successful sequel tends to be the exception rather than the rule, let alone a second sequel. Adding to the pressure is the fact that Jean Michel Jarre’s Oxygene is a seminal work that still has huge relevance today.

When its follow-up Oxygene 7-13 (now renamed to Oxygene 2)appeared 20 years later in 1997, it continued the thematic journey, managing to avoid most of the contemporary fads around more up-beat electronic music. Add a further 20 years and you have this week’s release of Oxygene 3. Even as a rabid Jarre fan*, I was keeping my expectations low. I knew it was impossible to match let alone better the original, but I was hoping for something that was at least a solid, enjoyable listen.

I’m pleased to report that Oxygene 3 is much more than solid or enjoyable. The best compliment I can give it, is that it completes the Oxygene picture in full. It continues beautifully from its predecessor, but even more notable is that it’s a near-flawless transition from the original. If Oxygene 2 had ended up some awful half-attempt mired in late 1990s fads, then this release would have made a perfect follow-up to the original.

There are plenty of healthy nods to Oxygene without being overbearing, but enough new in there to keep things fresh. All the iconic sounds are there without relying too heavily on history. Before completing this review I listened from Oxygene Part 1 to Part 20 and as subjective as it is, it feels like every part is needed and contributes toward the greater work. In that context, ending a trilogy was always going to be a challenge, but in Pt. 20 I’d argue Jarre has found the right balance between grandeur and the personal journey it’s been for him and all of us who’ve been along for the ride.

The optimist in me hopes for a second trilogy – the crackling flames at the very end of the album shows the fire is still burning. The pessimist in me however, can’t see how that would be anything but a road to ruin. So it’s best probably to see this as the end of an era. If you’re new to Jarre, you’re probably best to start with the original instalment, although this release can stand up on its own merits. For those who have been there for most or all of the last forty years, Oxygene 3 may not fully match your expectations but I’d argue it goes as close as it’s possible to in that regard. This album can stand tall in a small room of admirable, substantive sequels.

*My appreciation of Jarre’s work started in 1983, as a high-school student in a drama class. We were doing some sort of relaxation / visualisation session, all of us lying down on the carpeted floor, with lights off. The ‘Drama’ room had had all its windows blacked out and the walls also painted the same colour, the only other customisation a Yamaha stereo system with pretty decent speakers mounted on the wall. On this day, the Drama teacher asked us all to close our eyes and then he played the first couple of tracks from Oxygene. To say it made an impression was an understatement. Since then I’ve bought pretty much everything Jarre has released and even spent a fruitless couple of years trying to chase him down for an interview.

New iDongle Universal Adapter

With the mission Apple is on with removing as many ports from their products as possible, it’s time for a universal adapter to make everyone’s life easier:

idongle-apple

 

Previous Posts