Review: All Systems Red

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries, #1)All Systems Red by Martha Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got this book for free from the Tor.com eBook club. Also, would have gotten it for free from the Hugos 2021

I know I’m late to everyone’s favorite genderless, somewhat on the autism spectrum, Murderbot but I really loved this book a lot. I had no idea what to expect because when I’m going to read something, I tend to avoid all spoilers, even the back of the book text. What I found was a a great mystery story with a murderbot that’d been put on protection duty. The irreverence Murderbot has for their job and for humans in general reminded me a lot of what I really liked about the Knights of the Old Republic character HK-47. The book was funny without being slapstick or parody. It was more or less the perfect length so we’ll see what happens when I get to the novel-length entry eventually.

Once I got into it, I just wanted to keep going and that’s more or less the best praise I can give for any story.

This series seems to have made Martha Wells the reverse George RR Martin. He wrote lots of science fiction before hitting it big with the books in A Song of Ice and Fire. Now that’s all he’s known for. I feel like Ms Wells is getting the same notoriety with Murderbot overshadowing her earlier fantasy books. In fact, I got (but haven’t yet read) her fantasy books on the strength of everyone’s love for the Murderbot series.

Anyway, READ THIS NOVELLA! You may not feel the overwhelming joy because by the time you get it, it might be over-hyped, but I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy it!

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Review: Necessity

Necessity (Thessaly, #3)Necessity by Jo Walton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was the perfect cap on the trilogy. Told in a series of POV chapters that shuttle back and forth through time, the book forms the perfect meta-analogy to the way the gods experience time. Their personal time is moving forward even as they move forward and backward through our timeline.

We also get a perfect conclusion to the story of The Just City and why Athene was allowed to set it up. The scene with Zeus reminded me of the Christian gnostics and it really provided a very interesting answer to the question Christians always ask – why did God create us? The answer is (view spoiler).

I also enjoyed the expansion of the pantheon of gods to include alien gods.

Walton does a great job with Apollo’s song to create something similar to the original epic poems.

I really loved this story although this review probably isn’t doing that great a job conveying it. As a story interested in socratic and platonic ideas, it’s really hard to talk about it without spoiling too much.

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Review: Black Powder War

Black Powder War (Temeraire, #3)Black Powder War by Naomi Novik
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Black Powder War is another great entry by Ms. Novik in the Temeraire series. It picks up almost immediately after the previous book ended. Now Temeraire and crew must head to the Ottoman Empire. Oh, and for variety, Ms Novik has their ship burn down so they have to travel along the ancient (and at this point mostly non-existent) Silk Road.

As before, the story milks a lot from Laurence and aristocratic manners. But it also touches on quite a few other things. Temeraire has now seen how well dragons are treated in China and is impatient to get back to England to begin reforms for dragon equality. Most of his back and forth with Laurence (as well as the except of an in-universe book at the end) mirrors the debate around human African slavery. In fact, since that also exists in the world of Temeraire, it proves extra hard for Laurence to reconcile since his family has been on the side of ending the British involvement in the slave trade. Indeed, in the real world, Britain had ended its role in the slave trade much earlier than the USA.

If there’s one thing most non-history geeks know (and even quite a few history geeks) it’s that most people never left their immediate 20 mile radius from where they lived. We learn about traders and how they must have traveled, but until I read Neal Stephenson’s Foreworld Cycle, I never considered that traders and those in the military (including crusaders) would have traveled infinitely more than those around them. In fact, more than many modern humans. These people were often seen as outside of society, contaminated from contact with foreigners. That makes sense, because they’d probably come back with some ideas that the ruling class might find anathema. Couple that with the race theory of the 1800s and you can see why Tharkay, a character with a caucasian father and central asian mother, finds himself completely outside of society. To survive he effectively becomes nomadic – ferrying messages and goods across overland routes that most would deem too dangerous. This makes him one of the more interesting characters in this book. Ms. Novik contrives to have him play a small role in the book and I think this makes the impact of his lot in life hit a bit harder.

There are probably other themes I’m forgetting. But this book, once it got going, was one I found hard to put down. As you can see, I finished it in a mere 3 days. The battles in the latter third of the book are harrowing and I was left in suspense each time I had to leave the book. I don’t know if this is due to my ignorance of European history at this time or if Ms. Novik changes history at this point thanks to Napolean’s availability of air power (via dragons) changing the calculus of his conquest of Europe. I’m still hesitant to look it up. I know, because it’s so famous, that in real life he eventually lost to Russia when trying to conquer them. But I don’t know if this is yet to happen. For example, I know Temeraire makes mention of the American Colonies having won their independence from Britain, but I also think I read somewhere (not sure if it’s a spoilers thing or if it was in one of the in-world books) that the USA doesn’t get to enact full manifest destiny because the Native Americans also have dragons.

Either way, if you liked the first two books, this one is like a great combination of them. The battles of book 1 put together with the travelogue of book 2.

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Completing Advent of Code 2015 with 3 Programming languages

Throughout the spring and summer of 2021 a few of the times that I mentioned on the Advent of Code subreddit that I was doing the 2015 problem set in all 3 languages, some folks said they’d be interested in a writeup on the experience. Now that I’ve finally finished 2015 (my first set of 50 stars!) it’s time for that writeup. Before I continue, I’d like to thank everyone on the subreddit who has helped me. I have a README.md for each day’s problem and you’ll find my thanks to those who helped me within those READMEs here in my repo.

Why these languages?

  • Python – it’s my main language and the one in which I’m most proficient. I have written some programs used by many others (like my Extra Life Donation Tracker) and utilities that solve some problem I have (like my btrfs snapshot and backup program). By solving each problem in Python first, I allow myself to focus on the problem first instead of a syntax I’m unfamiliar with.
  • Ruby – I’ve had a lot of interest in Ruby because it is often compared and contrasted to Python. In 2020 I’d read through a book teaching kids how to program in Ruby and I wanted to push further. 
  • Perl – my first exposure to Perl was in the mid-90s when I was trying to figure out how people were making these cool websites with something called CGI scripts. I didn’t get too far with it at the time. Then, about 15 years ago I went through the O’Reilly books because I had the book Flickr Hacks and all (or most?) of the scripts were in Perl. I hadn’t really touched it since then and wanted to see if I could get proficient in it. Perl may be on the way out (I don’t think the Perl5 -> Perl6/Raku transition helped) but it’s still ranked #21 on Github. And the language is still being developed. But, anyway, there isn’t a real need for justification, I’ve just had a lot of folks ask me “why?” so I wanted to address that.

What the experience was like

First of all, Python’s list comprehensions are AWESOME. The funny thing is that until 1-2 years ago, I couldn’t figure out how to make sense of them. Then I just so happened to come across the right tutorials in some books and online classes last year that finally brought it all home. I now love it so much that it annoys me that Ruby doesn’t have it. (of course Perl wouldn’t).

I tried to be as idiomatic as I could given what I knew about either of the languages. In general, if you go through my repo in order – the later days will be more idiomatic as I learned more about the languages and gained more experience. That said, I could usually port my Python solution over to Ruby without too much trouble. Sometimes I would see where I could make idiomatic changes as I went along. Other times I would make the changes after getting the solution working or after getting some help from the AoC subreddit or the Ruby subreddit. Perl, being the older language, often was the most different. Sometimes it was for the better, but often it was worse.

Although I’ve never been an awesome programmer, I’ve done it at work and in school so I’ve come across C and Java in addition to Python, Ruby, and Perl. There are lots of arguments about curly braces (brackets in British english), indentation, etc. But having used 3 languages each with their own different ways of doing things has really shown the pros and cons. Python is the one I’m the most used to, so I have no problem using indentation to see when functions, classes, conditionals, etc end. (Especially in an IDE – copying code from a book is another story) I also find that curly braces tend to be pretty easy as long as you indent them so you can match it with the one above. But, for some reason, “end” with Ruby just causes me all kinds of headaches in seeing what goes with what (Day 23 was a real pain for that). Especially since the semantics are different in conditionals compared with Python and Perl. What I mean is that in Python when you have an if statement, you out-indent for your else or elif. For Perl you close your if statement curly braces and start a new one for your else. But in Ruby your else goes in the same “end” as your if statement. There’s definitely a logic to it, but it’s the odd man out in this trio.

Anyone who’s programmed for a while knows how important for the DRY principle it is to be able to create functions/methods/subroutines. But it is incredibly apparent to me that subroutines in Perl were created in a VERY DIFFERENT time period or mindset because they are the biggest pain in the world. Every time I had a subroutine-heavy algorithm designed in Python I began to dread creating the same thing in Perl. Passing arguments is THE WORST. Unlike a modern language where you’re defining what the variables are going to be called in the signature you’re pulling them off of an array that holds all the variables as if every single Perl subroutine is the equivalent of making your Python functions all have *args in the signature. And getting the data out reliably usually meant getting it as a scalar; a big pain if it was really an array! And there was the passing of references instead of arrays….oy!

Finally, one of the things that programming language geeks get into (and I guess I’m one of those now) is talking about how much extra syntax there is just for your language to parse. I hate languages that require semicolons. The fact that Python and Ruby don’t need them; the fact that, as I’ve done my research into Golang, it doesn’t need them. It just serves to remind me how pointless they are in Perl. The sigils were also annoying. The funny thing is that I could actually see them being incredibly useful if someone designed a major IDE to have a Perl parser. It could provide suggestions, etc based on knowing if your variable was an array or hash before you’ve even added data to it. But mostly it just served as a source of warnings when I’d first run any given Perl script.

What I learned

First off, a generic thing – different languages have different strengths. For the vast majority of the AoC problems, any programming language was as good as the next. But there were some where the built-ins or the parsing of a particular language made a solution easier or run a little faster.

  • Python
    • Got a lot more practice with regular expressions including learning when to use search vs match
    • After struggling with it last December, I finally understand memoization
    • using ord() to get the ASCII value for a letter and then using that to advance to the next letter
    • How to do permutations where you need all the elements to sum to a specific number.
    • How to use itertools Product to make combinations from different lists
  • Ruby
    • Creating files to import
    • Using iterable#each to do idiomatic for loops
    • map(&:to_i) to change an entire array from string to int without having to explicitly loop through the array.
    • if $PROGRAM_NAME == __FILE__ to do Python’s equivalent of if __name__  == “__main__”
    • How to do unit testing
    • memoization/caching
    • blocks in Ruby don’t need something like pass, so I was just able to do if backspace_or_unicode == nil and keep going.
    • string.delete_prefix and string.delete_suffix are the equivalent of lstrip and rstrip in Python
    • Chunk and chunk_while – which made Day 10 so easy!
    • Ruby classes and how to initialize them
    • using sort to sort by custom variables in a class
    • It appears you cannot just access variables in a Ruby class, you have to have a method to return the value. 
    • How to do permutations where you need all the elements to sum to a specific number.
    • array#flatten to reduce an array of arrays into an array
    • by default, the Hash just returns nil instead of erroring out if I try to access a key that doesn’t exist. Easier having to use get in Python.
  • Perl
    • Push instead of append to add to arrays
    • sorting numerically is a lot more complicated in Perl than the other languages 
    • using CPAN.
    • Perl does not have True/False primitives
    • Apparently there’s no way to tell if something is a string. If it’s not a number, hash, or array – it’s a string
    • The existence of the $-[0] and $+[0] after you do a regex match. They return the start and end of a match, respectively. 

What’s Next

Next up for me is starting work on the 2016 problem set. For that problem set I plan to add Haskell and Go to the list of languages. I will also keep Python, Ruby, and Perl so that I can stay sharp on those languages. I’ll also be intermittently going back to 2020 to finish the problems I didn’t finish last December and, eventually, also doing those in the other languages.

Review: Crimson Son

Crimson Son (Crimson Son #1)Crimson Son by Russ Linton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I got this book from a Story Bundle called “Immerse or Die”. The editor of the bundle had a process that went something like, “I got on the treadmill and started reading. If the book wasn’t pulling me in by the time I finished my 30 minutes, it was eliminated.” I didn’t find it quite that engrossing, but I did enjoy it and by the time the climax arrived, I kept wanting to turn the pages to see what would happen next.

Irrespective of when this book was written, I happened to read it after having watched season 1 of the Amazon adaptation of Invincible. That happened to inform some of my guesses about where the story was heading. Pleasingly, I don’t think any one of those predictions came true. Just like the beginning of both the comic and TV show, we have a non-super kid who is the son of a seemingly Superman-level super hero. However, where Robert Kirkman starts off Invincible as a deconstruction/reconstruction of both the Spider-Man and Superman mythos, Crimson Son starts off completely differently. The family is in hiding in a kind of a defunct Fortress of Solitude – perhaps a more realistic fate for the Parr family in The Incredibles 1 after Mr. Incredible punches his insurance office boss through a bunch of cubicles. Coming closer to Invinsible (at least the TV show – it’s been a while since I read the comic) the dad seems to have anger management issues causing some estrangement with his son. His son also seems to have very interesting lucid dreams (dreams where you are aware you are in a dream and, sometimes, able to control some of the events) that I believe the reader is meant to suspect are some kind of latent super powers.

The book seems to meander a bit at first, which made me surprised that it survived the Immerse or Die challenge. However, Linton pays off nearly all of the setup. He also manages a pretty sweet deconstruction/reconstruction of a Reed Richards/Hank Pym type of character. I think what dropped it from a 4 star was the ending. This book was clearly (I may be wrong, but it certainly reads this way) written to be part of a series. So while Spencer, our main character, actually has a great resolution to 2 of his plots, the ending still seems like if it was a movie we’d have at the end of the credits: “Spencer will return in Crimson Son 2: The Crimsoning”. There also didn’t seem to be a payoff to the strange sexuality with Charlotte near the end. Look through my book history and you’ll see I’m no prude – I’ve read erotica novels and romances and so on. But without any kind of payoff for the nudity or the ultra-specific detail of an erect nipple brushing against his arm – it just seemed gratuitous for what is otherwise a normal novel. (In other words you expect gratuity in an erotica, not a normal novel. In a normal novel there should be a reason for the excessive violence, language, or nudity.)

Overall, I had fun with the book. I’d recommend it as a super hero book that takes a slightly different look than all the others I’ve read – Invincible, The Boys, Irredeemable, etc.

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Review: Reaper Man

Reaper Man (Discworld, #11; Death, #2)Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is my second read. I have dropped the rating from 4 stars to 3 stars

I love Discworld’s Death. He makes any book better by his presence and so I especially love the books that feature Death. In this book Death is the A story. As we’ve seen throughout the previous 10 books, he’s developed a slightly more human personality. There was even that book a while back (Mort, I believe) where Death became a short order cook for a while. Apparently the auditors of reality don’t like this and Death now has a life timer. He ends up living out the rest of his life in a rural town and has a character growth arc.

The B story revolves around the effects of a lack of Death. My recollection of this book involved remember a Death of Mice and other Deaths. Turns out this was the tiniest smidgen of a plot point and didn’t loom as large as it had in my memory. We follow Windle Poons who was introduced, I believe, in Moving Pictures, as a semi-senile Wizard pushed around in the Discworld-equivalent of a wheelchair. Due to Death taking a break, Poons can’t die and essentially becomes a zombie (although without any of the zombie tropes we’re aware of in our real world). While there’s somewhat of an arc with Poons that’s kind of a lamentation of what death robs you of and how we don’t spend enough time in our youth truly paying attention – it’s mostly an excuse for Pratchett to introduce horror elements – vampires, werewolves, etc. He will make great use of this in future books. And there’s a weird plot about shopping malls that I didn’t like the first time and liked even less this time as it seemed too similar to the movie theatre plot of Moving Pictures.

If you like Discworld, read it for Death’s parts. The part with the horror guys and the wizard faculty (which is no longer ever-changing with Ridcully at the helm) are just OK.

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Review: The Most Dangerous Game

The Most Dangerous GameThe Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My enjoyment of this short story (or was it long enough to be a novella?) was only marred by the fact that the story is so famous that I’ve seen it referenced and parodied a million times. Of course, that’s part of what made me want to finally read it.

First, point of clarification, I always thought the “game” in the title was the hunt. But “game” refers to the animal. As in the phrase “an elephant is a game animal”

This story was written in the 1920s and so it has that “90% of this book is a philosophy discussion that might be had on a college campus” that I’m used to from reading Golden Age Science Fiction.

Nonetheless, the story is a great one (look at all the adaptations listed here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adaptat…), especially considering the notions of hunting, manliness, etc that were common in the west in the 1920s. It’s got some proper surprises and climaxes and, especially because it’s a short story – I wasn’t sure if it was going to have a happy ending or not. Generally, the further you get from Hollywood movie (Broadway -> regular play -> books -> novellas -> short stories) the more likely you are to find subversions of tropes, expectations, and social mores.

Pretty fast read – and recommended since everything references it (as long as you can get past the 1920s-1940s more dialog than action style).

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Review: Final Fantasy VI

Final Fantasy VI (Boss Fight Books, #28)Final Fantasy VI by Sebastian Deken
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was a kickstarter backer on the campaign for this book

I’ve been waiting for this book for a while. This game, along with Chrono Trigger, was very formative in my early gaming years. The book decides to focus on one of the greatest things about Final Fantasy VI (FF3 in the original US release), the music. I can’t argue with the fact that Uematsu’s music is incredible – I own a bunch of Final Fantasy soundtracks. That said, my preference would have been for a few chapters on the music. Mr. Deken’s work views FF6 entirely through the lens of music. It is definitely a unique lens and one that he is very well situated to opine on. It makes this book special compared to others that would tackle the same subject. It’s also what you get with a Boss Fight Book – a book that is HIGHLY dependent on how the author relates to the subject – for better and for worse.

And so, I give it 3 stars which Goodreads says is “I like it”; exactly how I felt with the book. If you are both a Final Fantasy and music geek/nerd, you will love this book with its multiple pages of FF6 sheet music. If you’re just a FF6 fan, I think you’ll still enjoy it. If you’re just a general video games fan, it may be a tougher sell.

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Making sure video games can be played by the widest group

Ever since a class during my undergrad which mentioned technology that can help make sure the real world is accessible to all folks no matter what their physical limits may be, I’ve been very interested in the topic. It’s led to my interest on web accessibility (although I’m not always perfect when it comes to this blog) as well as in other realms. One of my favorite series from the Game Maker’s Toolkit Youtube channel is his yearly wrap-up on how accessible games were that year. Here is his 2020 video:

This is why the most recent episode of Imaginary Worlds caught my eye. It’s about the recent history of being able to play games while blind and I found the episode fascinating. I’d encourage you to have a listen here. I especially love the section on how Naughty Dog thought they had an awesome product until they invited a blind consultant (for lack of a better word) who explained the way those in the blind community have a wide range of issues with their vision and so do not have a universal set of needs to make sure games are playable.

Review: Auberon

Auberon (The Expanse, #8.5)Auberon by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As the back of the book (so to speak…this is only available as an ebook at the moment) says, this novella is a chance to see what Amos’ old colleague Erich is up to. The novella starts off with a quote about a changing of the guard that mirrors the opening to The Churn. It appears that Erich has learned the lessons of that book and applied them to his current enterprise. At the same time, this novella really isn’t about Erich and his crime empire at all. (Although that probably would have been a pretty great novella in its own right). Instead it’s about Governor Rittenaur and, despite being listed as #8.5 in the series, it might reasonably fit in better as 7.5. The plot takes us back to right when Laconia has taken over and Governor Rittenaur is sent in to be in charge of the most important star system in terms of riches and potential scientific developments. It’s a story about colonizers and colonies that is mature enough to show that neither side is perfect. In a way, who you side with in this story says more about you than it does about anything else. Within that story, it’s also about ideological purity vs the real world. As we’ve already seen in a few novels, Duarte’s leadership style enforces and creates a hierarchy that does not tolerate deviations because they’re so certain that they are on the right side. One can form so many parallels to history in that.

I really enjoyed it and basically blitzed through it in a day. I actually think that this particular novella can just about stand on its own and be read without any other knowledge of The Expanse. You won’t know what “the pens” are or why Laconians are so rigid in their morals. But if you just accept that, this story more or less stands on its own and that somewhat makes me think it’s quite a strong story. Honestly, I think the same could be said of The Churn.

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Review: Death Masks

Death Masks (The Dresden Files, #5)Death Masks by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If Goodreads had half-stars, I’d definitely give this one 4.5 stars. Butcher has taken everything I like about the Dresden files and eliminated a lot of what was annoying. Dresden has FINALLY earned the trust of Murphy on the SI unit at the Chicago PD. It was getting tiresome having them fight over dumb stuff. By the same token, Dresden is finally not trying to be such a hero that he holds back info from Murphy in a way that both endangers them and causes her not to trust him. Over the last couple books, Dresden and Marcone have reached a level of respect for each other. Sure, Dresden still would prefer to keep Marcone uninvolved, but at least he’s realized he shouldn’t be so childish.

Outside the main plot of this book, Butcher continues to advance the world-building. This time there were a few more drips because I think he’s given us enough for us to see that he has a larger plan in mind. So, unlike the bomb that dropped in the last book, this one just has a few mentions of his past and heritage. The battles Harry finds himself roped into have much more complex endings and resolutions than before. Also, The Archive is awesome and I hope we get more of her and her bodyguard.

I think the only dig against the book is that the mystery itself seemed a bit less tight than the previous mysteries he solved.

If you’re enjoying Dresden, this is more of that with less of the annoying parts.

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Review: Lightspeed Magazine, April 2014

Lightspeed Magazine, April 2014Lightspeed Magazine, April 2014 by John Joseph Adams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a GREAT issue. I don’t think there was one story that wasn’t top-notch. My favorite SF stories were Codename: Delphi and Exhalation. My favorite fantasy was The Only Death in the City. The Afterparty excerpt was great and I added the book to my To Read list. As I normally do with collections or SFF magazines, below are my reviews per story. (They roughly align with my status posts, but sometimes I have to trim the statuses to remain within the character limits)

Science Fiction


Codename: Delphi – a story almost certainly inspired by the Iraq/Afghanistan wars of the 2000s-2020s where drone operators worked from afar to provide backup to the war effort. In this story, battlefield oversight and command is now a job contracted out. Our protagonist works in a “call center” providing this oversight role and we spend a night with her. It’s one of those short stories that is less about character growth or a full story. Instead it’s a scene in what could be a much larger narrative. I enjoyed the story quite a bit.

Francisca Montoya’s Almanac of Things that Can Kill You – what starts off as a darkly humorous explanation of all the ways humans can die ends up telling the tale of a post-apocalyptic world. It’s especially creative for the fact that the story is told through ways of dying that are listed alphabetically.

Complex God – A very interesting take on the emergent AI concept. It also leads to an unexpected twist as our protagonist has their own twist planned as well.

Exhalation – a neat metaphor for what the current scientific thought tells us will happen with out own universe as time passes. It has a bit of that SF Golden Age (1930s-1940s) tone to it and I really enjoy that whenever I find it. 5/5 for this story.

Fantasy


Observations about Eggs from the Man Sitting Next to Me on a Flight from Chicago, Illinois to Cedar Rapids, Iowa – very odd sort of fantasy in which you get glimpses of magic or things not quite being what they seem.

The Day the World Turn Upside Down – A fantastical metaphor for a breakup alongside a literal, non-metaphorical breakup. It was a sweet story and a nice read.

Alsiso – An exploration of how memes mutate that was a lot of fun to read. Also seems to maybe overlap a bit with the premise of Small Gods by Terry Pratchett.

The Only Death in the City – Something has happened on Earth and now people are reincarnated and completely remember their past lives. What would this to do life and society? Then our main character is the first newly born in thousands of years (he does not have a past life) – and so a moving story begins. An excellent selection for this fantasy reprint!

Novellas & Author Spotlights

The Autopsy – A science fiction horror novella that has a bit of a Lovecraftian bent to the narration. The plot has a few unexpected turns, but they are executed quite well. Reading the first paragraph of the next section of the magazine, an author feature, mentions this story is a classic. It definitely deserves that award.

Mihael Shea: No Form is Eternal- A tribute to Mr. Shea and The Autopsy.

Novel Excerpts

Afterparty – An intriguing novel involving (essentially) 3D printed drugs. The character of The Vincent cinched it for me and I added this book to my To Read List (long though it is)

Steles of the Sky – An excerpt from a novel that takes place in a fantasy-tinged Mongol empire. Thanks to having read The Mongoliad I recognized the names as Mongolian immediately. Story seems fascinating. Perhaps I will give the author another shot. (I didn’t like the first novel of hers I read)

Non-Fiction

Interviews

Interview: Darren Aronofsky – An interview about the movie and graphic novel adaptations of Noah.

The Myth of Everyman – An essay on why it was problematic that the entire Noah cast (in the movie) was white. A good, short essay to show someone who doesn’t understand the concept of why it’s bad that “white” is assumed to be the “default”.

Interview: Scott Sigler – Wonder how well Pandemic the book squares with the reality of pandemic in 2020-2021. Man, this is hard to read during COVID.

Artist Gallery/Artist Spotlight: Remi Le Capon – a mix of steampunk and SF images. His description of an ideal art project sounds like The Witcher meets Steampunk.

Author Spotlights


Linda Nagata – Looks like I was slightly off in the inspiration. Apparently the short story is providing POV to a character from one of her novels.

Shaenon K. Garrity – About the inspiration for the character in Almanac of Things that can kill you

Scott Sigler – A little more background on Prawatt and where she came from and her motivations in “God Complex”

Ted Chiang – How a Philip K Dick short story was part of the inspiration for “Exhalation!”

Carmen Maria Machado – The origin of the egg story.

Thomas Olde Heuvelt – The author’s experience with grief led to the story and its extended metaphor.

Spotlight: KJ Bishop – Discussion on how Alsisso comes from the idea of consumerism as the evolution of theology.

Spotlight: CJ Cherryh – In the discussion of The Only Death I learned that Paris is one of the oldest European cities.

Misc
—-
The Legend of RoboNinja – A parody of cyberpunk, complete with unnecessarily complex words. Very fun.

Author Spotlight: RoboNinja – A great parody of the author spotlights.

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Review: Generation Xbox: How Videogames Invaded Hollywood

Generation Xbox: How Videogames Invaded HollywoodGeneration Xbox: How Videogames Invaded Hollywood by Jamie Russell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anyone who has followed my book reviews on Good Reads or my blog knows that I have read quite a bit of video game history. Whether it’s a history of video games starting with the miltiary and university campuses, a book like A Mind Forever Voyaging: A History of Storytelling in Video Games or the Boss Fight Books series – I’ve gone through quite a bit of video game history. So when this one started off with Atari and the ET game I was a little wary. By this point anyone my age or older with any bit of knowledge of video game history knows of the crash in the 80s and how it was (at least partially) caused by Atari’s horrible ET game. The Indiana Jones game would have been news to me if I hadn’t seen a long Ars Technica article about it last year. So a slightly boring start for me.

But then the book swiveled away to a part of video game history that I was just a little too young and a little too poor to have known about. (Too young for Night Trap and too poor for Sega CD) The chapter on the Super Mario Brothers movie was great and I also recommend listening to the SMB movie How Did this Get Made podcast episode. Wen they got to the FMV craze, I remembered playing some demos of those games when I got a CD-ROM drive kit back before computers came with CD-ROMs or sound cards. From there it moved on to Tomb Raider, GTA, and more modern titles. Each way it showed how the movie and video game industries were engaged in a tango in which the role of lead partner kept changing.

Eventually the book’s thesis turns out to be that Avatar is the ultimate, final merging of these two mediums. In the same chapter it mentions how Andy Serkis and his mocap (or apparently nowadays it’s called motion performance) work has changed Hollywood. Also, for a few decades now, the AAA video games have been making WAAAAY more money than the Hollywood blockbusters.

It’s a great book that shows a different part of video game history than all the other books I’ve come across. I appreciate it for that. I know books can’t be infinitely long, but I was surprised he (or she…. can’t tell just by name) didn’t really spend time exploring video cut scenes like in Command and Conquer considering how important those were at the time. Perhaps because it didn’t contribute to the ultimate thesis? Or was a dead end since most cuts cenes are now done “in engine”. Also a bummer this was written before The Mandalorian provided what I think is the true apotheosis of the video game/Hollywood merger. I also thought it would have been an interesting note in the epilogue about how AAA games may be merging with Hollywood, there continues to be an indie scene with immensely popular games with SNES graphics (like Stardew Valley).

Highly recommend if you’re into video game histories.

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Review: Programming Perl

Programming PerlProgramming Perl by Tom Christiansen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve effectively finished this book, although I’ll admit to skipping the section called “reference”; the book had already gotten deeper into the weeds than I needed at the moment.

I’ve read a lot of programming books over the past 15 years (and a few before that when I was a young buck trying to learn exactly what one could do with “computers” or on the “Internet”). But rarely have I read a programming book as delightful to read as this one; especially since it focuses so much on the internals of the language. But the book is written with that dad-joke-ish programmer humor that keeps it from ever getting too dry.

Perl isn’t as popular as it was when this book was written. Shoot, even Ruby, once a darling thanks to the Rails framework, has faded due to the likes of Python, Go, Rust, and C#. In the first quarter of 2021 it was ranked #21 on Github. But Perl once ran so much of the web (even a recent episode of Commandline Heroes mentioned the folks who made the Batman Forever movie using it for their site) and probably still runs a huge chunk of sys admin scripts around the world. It may be worth learning just for that skillset. It’s also interesting to see how groundbreaking it was at the time and how other languages (like Python and Ruby) have borrowed from it (very heavily in Ruby’s case).

Ultimately this book isn’t for learning Perl. Funnily enough, there’s a book called Learning Perl that works much better for that. But if you find yourself still working with (or newly working with) Perl, this book will give you a nice, deep background into how everything works that will allow you to write very powerful Perl programs or understand that Perl program that the retired Perl Monk wrote and that you now have to maintain. I wish more programming language books were written this approachably when covering the innards of the language.

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Review: Moving Pictures

Moving Pictures (Discworld, #10; Industrial Revolution, #1)Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is my second time reading as I do my Discworld re-read. Dropped the start rating from 3 stars to 2 stars.

This one seems a slight step backwards in the progression of Discworld novels. It’s not really about any character growth and we more or less get a sitcom-like reboot at the end. It appears Pratchett had not yet decided that we wanted to continue to modernize Anhk-Morpork as he would in the later novels. We do get a few new characters. Windle Poons is introduced here and continues into the next book, Reaper Man. Our main character’s class mate later features as a grad student who does the Discworld version of particle physics research. Otherwise, it’s another story in which too much magic allows Lovecraftian monsters a way to come in from the demon dimensions. Other than that it’s almost a Flintstones-level parody of Hollywood in which you look for the Discworld equivalent of real-world things – like 20th Century Fox being Century of the Fruitbat Pictures.

I didn’t really enjoy this one the first time around and a second reading didn’t improve my opinion of the book. You can skip it if you want – it doesn’t have any real consequences to the future of Discworld. Read it for CMOT Dibbler’s shennanigans or Archchancellor Ridcully’s insistence on not bending his will to the university’s culture and how it bothers the bursar.

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