All posts by humanitysdarkerside

Bibliophile, small-time activist, blogger

Stross, Charles; Iron Sunrise (2004)

Considering this is my third or fourth time reading Iron Sunrise, it should come as no surprise that I like it. Iron Sunrise is a science fiction thriller space opera lingering within certain degrees of believability. There are two main characters. One of them was apparently in the previous Eschaton story, Singularity Sky.

Rachel Mansour is Black Ops, i.e. top-secret with/without wet-work (e.g. killing people). I’ve never figured out why politicians, academics and the military use so many substitute words in an attempt to camouflage what a soldier often has to do. Although, in the case of politicians, in real life and in Iron Sunrise, I expect it has to do with living in pretend worlds inside their own heads. Pretenses and pretty words do nothing to save people like Rachel from having recurring nightmares. She is the kind of person, who instead of asking “Why should I do this?” or “Why is this happening to me?” asks “Why not me?”. She is who the UN sends out to clean up their or other worlds’ messes. In the first part of Iron Sunrise, Rachel has a nasty encounter with Emperor Idi Amin. She manages to save Geneva from him. After that, she is sent off to save humans from themselves.

One of the people who experienced the start of the mess Rachel is trying to fix is our other main character, Wednesday Strowger. The first few pages are about her experiences three years earlier when  her invisible friend, Herman, asked for her help.

She’d read the papers in the strong room, realized how important they must be, and pushed the door ajar, thinking to leave – yanked it shut barely ahead of the snarl and the leap. Acrid smoke had curled up from the hinges as she scrambled into the duct-work, fled like a black-clad spider into the service axis and though the pressurized cargo tunnel and the shadows of the almost-empty dock, panting and crying as she went. Always hearing a scrabble of diamond-tipped claws on the floor behind her.

After the evacuation of Old Newfoundland Four, we next meet Wednesday three years later. She is now 19 has people out to kill her. Wednesday ties them to her past. Again, with the help of Herman, she jumps, once more, into the fray. That jump eventually brings her into contact with Rachel.

Another person sent by her government to clean up after other people’s stupidity is U. Portia Hoechst. Same thing, only she belongs to the other side, the enemy to Wednesday and Rachel’s beliefs about right and wrong. Portia is as convinced of the need for the ReMastered as Rachel believes in the need for Eschaton. Two people, each trying to bring the galaxy back into their kind of order. Take what it may. Already, Wednesday’s home-world, Moscow and her second home on Old NewFoundland have been destroyed or made uninhabitable for humans. Once more, Wednesday and millions of other people stand to lose their lives.

I’m on Wednesday and Rachel’s side, but that is because Stross has written the story with them made out to be the quasi-goodies. Yet I can see the attraction of a tyranny run the way the ReMastered do. Only if I was considered one of the usable ones. The only good tyrannies, in my mind, are ones with leaders who put the needs of their people before their own wants. Yeah, not likely.

There are some technologies that Stross describes that I wouldn’t mind. Smart pigments for hair and skin could be incredibly fun to play with. But not really practical unless you’re trying to camouflage yourself. I’m not sure about brain implants (basically a smarter brain) because the concept seems too easy to hack. Plus they seem kind of clunky. Plus I’m not sure which parts of the brain they would be hacked into. Our brains are only electrical impulses traveling along a fragile network easily disrupted by neurochemical signals. I imagine our calorie intake would have to increase to make up for the extra energy requirements of a global implant such as Stross describes. Cause we would have to be able to energize these networks by ourselves, the way we do with our meat brains. Which is why I’m not buying all the “hard science fiction” labels that Iron Sunrise has gotten. Not when it comes to Eschaton either.

Faster than light travel, wormholes, null spaces or even almost up to light travel are never going to happen for humans. We are too stupid to come together as a planet for long enough to get it done. Hell, we’re too stupid to make our own planet more environmentally sound. Even me, and I know what is going on. But that doesn’t make this stuff any less fun to read about. Iron Sunrise is an excellent thriller that is already, more or less, happening here on Earth. This is how stupid people are. And how dedicated. And how terrified yet willing. And how terrifying. And how greedy. Greed. Ain’t it wonderful. Where would thrillers be without it or fanaticism.

If ever an Artificial Intelligence comes about that is somewhat like Eschaton, it deserves a UN citizenship.

According to Stross, the set-up of Iron Sunrise

“allows for narrative structures that map onto intercontinental travel circa 1880-1914; we have railroads space elevators that link national planetary populations to ports space stations where steam starships dock, to transport passengers and cargo slowly between stops; and we have trans-oceanic telegraph cables causal channels to allow instantaneous (but expensive and limited-bandwidth) information transfer.”


My reviews of other Charles Stross stories

Svingen & Pedersen; Warped (The Meantime stories III)(2018)

Illustrated by Håkon Lystad

Of the three Meantime stories, Warped is my favourite. It is probably the shortest of the three and certainly the wackiest. Svingen and Pedersen take us on a journey to figure out where the Agatha X has gone.

A sudden tremor and the screeching noise of G-force on metal throws Captain Henderson out of her daydream. The spacecraft quivers and groans for a few seconds, before falling quiet again.

Some translation issues still exist (Norwegian to English). Warped is completely unlike Flushed and not only because it is a “science fiction” story. It feels like a different person wrote Flushed from the one who wrote Warped. Whatever happened, it worked.

The authors gave me an ARC copy to review.


My reviews of Flushed and Converted

Svingen & Pedersen; Converted (The Meantime stories II)(2018)

Illustrated by Håkon Lystad

Converted is the second short-story of The Meantime Series. “Draghan and the shaman had been on the inside of the innermost circles of power since the previous regime” until “King Avlar met his premature death after a clumsy and unfortunate accident where he sat down on his sword”. Both Draghan and the shaman had an instantaneous conversion from the old god to the god of Avlar’s son. We follow the two of them in Converted.

While there are language and grammar issues, Svingen & Pedersen have solved many of the problems I saw in Flushed. I particularly like their take on the worth of people. Some places in the world are still like this.

The authors gave me an ARC copy to review.


My review of Flushed

Svingen & Pedersen; Flushed (Meantime stories I) (2018)

Topics of the Meantime short-stories are independent of each other. Thus far there are three of them. Flushed is the first one, and the one I enjoyed the least. Most of that has to do with translation problems and proper word usage. That is not to say that it was bad. Flushed is a story about how a president handles “an uninterrupted log of such length and girth” when it refuses to be flushed down the UK PM’s toilet. Most of the story is about the president’s thoughts interspersed with short spurts of action.

While “any resemblance to real persons” is entirely coincidental according to Svingen & Pedersen, their presidential character borrows heavily from a certain US president. Flushed’s president certainly behaves the way much of media presents him.

Remember! Flushed is supposed to be a piece of humour, not a piece of political commentary.

The authors sent me an ARC copy to review.

 

Pratchett, Terry; Pyramids (1989)

I reviewed “Pyramids” on my Terry Pratchett blog.

Terry Pratchett and me

“But here, away from the great centres of population, where the Circle Sea meets the desert, there is a line of cold blue fire. Flames as chilly as the slopes of Hell roar towards the sky. Ghostly light flickers across the desert.

The pyramids in the ancient valley of the Djel are flaring their power into the night.

The energy streaming up from their paracosmic peaks may, in chapters to come, illuminate many mysteries: why tortoises hate philosophy, why too much religion is bad for goats, and what it is that handmaidens actually do.”

As the Discworld unfolds, the stories become more poignant. Yes, gags, plays on words, and downright bizarreness are plentiful. Except, this isn’t why Pratchett remains one of my alltime favourite authors. Real world people and events (even historical) are. Pyramids is sort of about Egyptian history, all boy boarding schools (particularly final examinations), family, coming…

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Gorman, K.; Black Dawn (Eurynome Code 1)(2017)

Karin Makos has a secret she wants to keep under wraps. Her sister knows about it. After all, Nomiki was another child experimented on. In Black Dawn, Karin is our protagonist. We get to know her sister through Karin’s dreams. Black Dawn is told from a third-person perspective as seen from Karin’s point of view and everything we find out about her universe is what Karin experiences and thinks.

Karin, Marc and Soo-Jin  are scavengers, travelling in the Nemina, chasing First Gen Earth objects – like beer cans. They travel to abandoned sites/worlds to find goods and sell them on to collectors. Karin is the overqualified pilot, Marc owns the Nemina and Soo-Jin is their First-Gen specialist and marketer. They are both Karin’s side-kicks and play vital seconds to her in different episodes of this novel. Karin is the only three-dimensional character.

After a successful run someone enters their space ship and attacks all three while they sleep. Abruptly waking from a dream …

She sucked in a breath.

It was a man – or, at the very least, a very life-like, man-shaped shadow. Tall, with edges that blended into the room’s already significant darkness, he stood against the wall with no definition to him, only darkness. she couldn’t see any features, not eyes or the rumples where clothes might be, or – heck, were those arms?

Karin is forced to use her special ability or die. An ability that becomes more and more difficult to hide as the story progresses.

Light pricked through the blackness. The white droplets on her arm still shone, dimmer than before, but persistent.

She brought her hand up. Muscles shaking, she pushed energy into the light. It shivered at her touch like water under a full moon, waxing, growing. The thing’s hand moved into her eyes. A fingertip brushed through her skull like the touch of a feather. She cringed, pulled away. Then she pushed back.

Light exploded from her skin.

The black think shrieked.

Karin confronts her dilemma many times during Black Dawn. To use or not to use. She knows what to expect if people find out about her ability, yet it may be that her ability can save people from the effects of the Shadow people. Few individuals find themselves with both a talent that might save many along with a tendency to freeze in dangerous situations. Karin does. If she had been all alone in the situations in Black Dawn, the novel would have ended much sooner. However, our shero works hard to control her panic attacks and manages to pull through each time.  Black Dawn might be about learning to trust yourself and others. It’s also about needing to use gifts/talents if you want them to grow and about trying to not let past decisions rule current ones.

We find out about Karin’s background and genetic modification as the story develops. Even though it is a serial, the Black Dawn ends at a good spot rather than in the middle of a climax. The story is a science fiction space opera low on technology but high on action/drama/adventure. There is no graphic violence or  sexual content. I liked the prose and do not think I have come across plots with Shadows attackers in them. This was an entertaining story that is the first of a trilogy. Recommended.

Halstead, Jason; Voidhawk (2011)

https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1397213139l/21607512.jpg

Longing for his own spaceship, Dexter Silvercloud drags his friend Kragor away from his life as a married man to fix a space derelict called Hawk’s Talon. The space ship is stuck in the asteroid field off their planet. Two nights a week are spent fixing up the vessel and Dexter will do anything to buy it. The rest of the week is spent getting enough money together to buy Hawk’s Talon.

One day while traversing the Playground to fetch his friend Dexter stumbled into an ambush. Contrary to stories told around hearths with mulled ale, most ship to ship encounters in the void do not involve catapult shot and ballista bolts flying. Even the rare bombards so often talked about in the story are seldom seen, let alone fired. Only the Federation and the Elven Armada ships are prone to fire at the slightest provocation. Repairs and even ammunition are too expensive for the private ship owner to run the risk.

Three small ships emerged from teh background of floating rocks to close with him. Dexter quickly identified an Ant, a Dart, and the third was little more than a skiff with a sail upon it. Dexter sped up his Gnat, risking the perils of the asteroid field and trying to lose the pursuing ships. Being a Federation scout ship, Dexter was correct in assuming that his was faster than the pirates. They were very familiar with the asteroid field; however, so he was unable to lose them.

The largest one, the Ant, slammed into a pony sized rock, sending one man flying into the void and another to the deck bleeding. Broken planks of wood drifted free, bobbing in the small vessel’s gravity plane. Seeing that gave Dexter an idea.

Yes. You read correctly. Space vessels with wood plating and sails. In space. Sail ships in space. Sorry. I just cannot comprehend why Halstead would choose to place sail ships in space. It makes no sense. Even if they have their own gravity wells. Even though I do not hold space operas to the same rules as most other forms of science fiction. There are  minimum requirements that I have, and Halstead keeps on breaking them throughout the story.

One of the reasons I think I kept on reading was because of a fascination with an author who completely disregards physical laws. Plus Halstead’s writing is halfway decent. If only he had chosen a stricter editor and science fiction beta-readers. Sadly, Voidhawk‘s characters suffer from the same lack.

I cannot say that I recommend Voidhawk. If only … I probably would have.

Andersen, H.C.; Collected stories (1822-1870)

Once upon a time there lived a man in Denmark called Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875). He was born into poverty and its overwhelming harshness. Yet talent and luck brought him out of it.

Many have heard a version of “The little mermaid”. Andersen’s version is one that brought me to tears when I was young. It felt unfair to me, that she gave up so much and gained so little. Now that I am re-reading all of his stories, I’m not certain that was Andersen’s intent. “The little mermaid” is definitely about how unfair life is, how infatuation makes us do things with long-term consequences, but also about hope. Andersen was, according to those who write about his life, a deeply religious man. The idea that he hoped for something wonderful after death shines through his stories. His fears of the horrors that await evil people also comes through some of his stories. To avoid Hell, Andersen made his people go through terrible penances. “The red shoes” and “The girl who trod on the loaf” are two examples his penance type stories. These three stories, and many others, clearly show the position women held in Danish society.

Andersen writes about people who are idiots. “What the old man does is always right” is about a man who is dumber than bread. Yet he still gets out ahead. Irony and humour is strong in that story. Humour was one of Andersen’s tools. “The emperor’s new clothes” is a funny story that nails group effects and foolish traditions right on the head.

Fables were part of his repertoire. Andersen replaced people with animals, plants and inanimate objects. With them he gave us stories such as “The ugly duckling”, “The neighbouring families” and “The darning needle”. Magical creatures such as trolls,  dryads and elves turned up in his tales.

More than anything else, Andersen’s stories are about structural discrimination and abuse. He stood up for people who needed representation. As now, these differences were reproduced and supported by people who could be heard. People like Andersen are always needed. Most societies and cultures discriminate and abuse those unlike themselves. I say most, but I have never heard of any culture where fairness and equal opportunities were practised by either the majority or minority populations. Like society, most of Andersen’s stories have dark undertones and can reveal uncomfortable truths about ourselves if we are willing to look beneath the surface fittings of the stories.

Andersen’s 168 stories have been illustrated by artists such as Lorenz Frölich, Carl Larsson, Vilhelm Pedersen, Stefan Viggo Pedersen and Isidor Törnblom. Many of them have been translated into other languages. H.C. Andersen’s stories are available at Gilead, at H.C. Andersen Centret and in various other languages at Project Gutenberg.

 

Carvic, Heron; Picture Miss Seeton (Miss Seeton 1) (1968)

I bow down to Heron Carvic. Intelligent humour. British humour. If you aren’t a fan of either of those, don’t bother. I giggled. Then I giggled some more.

Each one of Carvic’s gallery is a Character in some way. I’m sorely tempted to compare with other authors, but that goes against everything I believe about writing reviews.

“Miss Seeton prepared to hurry by a couple pressed into an adjacent doorway, when the girl spat:

“Merdes-toi, putain. Saligaud! Scélérat, si tu m’muertes …” She ended on a gasp as the boy’s arm drove into her side.

Oh, no. Really. Miss Seeton stopped. Even supposing the girl had been rude – and it had certainly sounded so – that was no excuse. A gentleman did not hit … She prodded him in the back with her umbrella.

“Young man …”

He whirled and leaped. Deflected by the umbrella he landed beside the prostrate Miss Seeton. Grabbing her by the coat, he jerked her towards him. …”

Miss Seeton is close to retirement age, single and a teacher. Her thoughts are associative and others have trouble following along. She is like this all the way through the book. Well, not all the way. Other things do happen and other people have their own things going. But many of Miss Seeton’s encounters are about her minding her own business until some other person decides to intrude upon it. I have not met such a delightful creature in a long time.

Carvic (pen-name) understood that she needed a strong supporting cast for the concept to work. There is. Due to the crime’s nature, the police – Scotland Yard are involved. Superintendent Delphick (the Oracle) leads up the investigation involving a killer. Deplhick appears able to understand Miss Seeton’s way of thinking. Poor Sergeant Ranger often finds himself at a loss for what to say when Miss Seeton opens her mouth. The village of Plummergen is certainly not ready for her. Except for the gossips. Does she ever fuel their terrible rumours. Then we have Nigel who is trying to save his childhood friend from herself.

British humour is seldom solely about the humour. At least that is the way it seems to me. I did not have to look very hard to find a bit of satire. Yet kind. In that sense Carvic reminded me of a few favourite authors from that part of the world. Picture Miss Seeton is a mystery parody, or a parody mystery, set in a time before electronics took over our lives. I would guess that number one is set at around its publication date in 1968. This e-edition is based on the 1988 version. Apparently parts have been removed from the original version. There are 23 books in the series. Only the first five are by Carvic (he died). Definitely recommended.


Reviews:


Available at Internet Archive

Writing summaries

 

 

Writing reviews got put on hold for a couple of weeks while I wrote summaries for four chapters in two psychology books. My daughter, who attends Vrije University, Amsterdam, asked me if I wanted to write the summaries. The organization (slimstuderen.nl) that organizes the whole thing contacted me and I agreed to write summaries for four chapters. Talk about a brand new experience.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, psychology was my major. I discovered a hard truth about memory. The connections between my neurons have deteriorated. Particularly when it comes to the biological part of Cognitive Psychology and Behavior. Tsk, tsk. Most of chapters nine, “Knowledge”, and ten, “Visual Imagery”, of Cognitive Psychology (Goldstein) and chapters eight, “Control of Movement” and thirteen, “Learning and Memory”, of Physiology and Behavior (Carlson & Birkett) had to be relearned. I had a blast. Back in the day, when I was taught psychology, we were stuck with physical books. If something about the text confused us, we had to move our bodies and find a kind librarian to teach us the archiving system. OMG! The difference. The resources available – yes proper ones as well. How can people not see how amazing the internet is?

Anyways. After editing the summaries a gazillion times, they are now awaiting a verdict. I’m expecting comments to change some of it. Probably not as many for the last chapter I handed in, but definitely for the first chapter. Learning is a blast. Being lucky enough to share with others the joy of writing summaries is beyond belief. When it comes to payment, it is a pittance. But then my reward isn’t the dimes and pennies my daughter gets (yes, it all goes to her). That it would give me such joy came as a complete surprise.

My verdict on the books, themselves? For the main part great. There were paragraphs that could have flowed better. The visual aids were detailed. At times, the visual aids gave a better explanation of processes than the text. It helped that I could enlarge pictures and tables (cause digital books).

Definitely recommended – except for one serious matter. NONE of this material is written with dyslexics in mind. I believe these books are not written with students in mind but rather other academically inclined professionals. The language is exclusive rather than inclusive. My personal opinion is that valuable researchers and psychologists are kept away because of their inability to crack the code neurotypicals habitually use to keep unwanted “dross” out.

I only recommend these books for neurotypicals and “we others” who happen to crack the academic language code. Believe me. It is a code.

 

Kotzwinkle, William: Doctor Rat (1976)

Doctor Rat gives voice to the horrors of the laboratory as seen from the eyes of the lab-animals. Driven insane by the experiments performed on him, many of them without anaesthesia, Dr. Rat encourages the other animals to do their best to be supportive of the torture they experience.

“He’s sensitive chap and it was his exquisite sensitivity that caused him to dream up the item that’s become the latest rage here at the lab: the fabulous removal of the eggs from a female rat’s body—to the tail, to the ear, to the stomach. And for the past twenty-three days, he’s been grafting them to their eyeballs!”

In 2014 one of the Nobel Prizes handed out was for showing why our brain is a GPS system. Two of those who won that prize were May-Britt and Edvard Moser.

In this video, the Moser’s look like nice people. They cuddle the rats and talk about creating lesions on their brains. As far as labs go, this lab is far from the worst. However, this video does illustrate the human position as apex predators.

One argument for experiments like the ones in Dr. Rat or the ones in the labs at NTNU goes something like this “What about medical advancement and further knowledge about improving lives?” I don’t buy that argument at all even though I have benefited and benefit from animal and human experiments. There is no good argument for humans treating lab animals the way cats treat their victims.

I could not read Dr. Rat in one go. Some of the other stories I read can be as violent, but Kotzwinkle‘s writing dug his claws of horror and despair into my brain. In the end, there is a balancing event against the torturers (not only researchers) that in no way makes up for the terrible lives of these animals. Not that such treatment surprises, or even shocks, me. This is the way many humans treat other humans. After all, humans are both predator and prey in our genetic make-up.

“What are they doing to me, Doctor Rat?”

“Let me just check my notes… yes, here we are. You’ll be the tenth rat this week to have his brains sucked out by a pneumatic tube.”

While Dr. Rat is horror, it is also humour, humour of the darker kind, the kind I like. As satire, the story does its job of criticizing society’s proclivity towards violence.

Excellent story. Most definitively recommended.


Reviews:

Again, with the Geeky stuff

Every once in a while I post links that I think authors who write about fighting should know of. I do not know how many unrealistic fight scenes I have read and how much idiotic protection people wear, but there have been a lot of them. Medieval fight scenes are a particular pet peeve of mine.

Writing solely for entertainment is OK. I can read stories with idiotic fight scenes and still be entertained. But I probably won’t review that story unless the author has asked me to. Although I try to phrase things as nicely as possibly, I have tell readers that the fighting in the story is unrealistic.

Snapjelly has one of the greater sites on medieval sword fighting I have found. He’ll try to answer any question. If you scroll down this link to his videos on Youtube, you will probably find answers to most questions about that kind of fighting. This video should illustrate that the dude knows what he is talking about.

 

 

Nerdiness/geekiness

Let’s face it, I am a nerd. Probably borderline geek. On one wall of my office hang maps. There is a map of the world in the correct proportions (in 2D format), a map of sentences, a map of the body and a map of the sky as seen from both Northern and Southern hemispheres. A Diagrammatical Dissertation of Opening Lines of Famous Novels – my map of sentences – is probably my favourite one. There is something intrinsically pleasing about seeing combinations of words broken down into a diagram. Especially when placed together like this and particularly when one of those sentences happen to be the opening sentence of Don Quixote (The ingenious  gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha) by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.

I moved to the US with my parents eons ago, back when I was 13/14. My first language was Aussie English. When my parents moved back to Norway for a time, that knowledge went away. It was not something I thought I would ever get back. Then they moved to Salt Lake City in Utah and I had to relearn what I knew as a child. My breakthrough came during sophomore English. I had one of the best Teachers I have ever had. Her willingness to see me and to try to understand how I thought was amazing. We got to breaking down sentences into diagrams. You see where I’m going with this, don’t you. After that everything fell into place and all subjects worked much better, and boy did my grades improve.

One day I came across Pop Chart Lab’s Dissertation and knew I had to have it. The pleasure I get from looking at these diagrams is immense because of what they represent but also because my brain is reminded of the rules, rules I break. Not always intentionally. With great pleasure, I leave you with the opening sentence of Don Quixote and its diagram.

Somewhere in la Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing.

 

Jackson, Shirley. The Haunting of Hill House. 1959

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

(p. 1, The Haunting of Hill House)