Mutiny in Space by Rod Walker

Mutiny_480I’m old enough to remember a world pre-Star Trek: The Next Generation– though not by much– and so I’m old enough to remember the excitement of seeing how something that I loved so dearly would look with all the shiny, modern flair of the 1980s. Maybe it’s the rose colored glasses of nostalgia, or maybe it’s that I the reboot-recycle plague hadn’t really settled in yet, and so even call backs to classic episodes were exciting, but it was a wonderful experience for me as a young boy.

One of the things that I’m grateful to my parents for is that they made sure I knew the value of media from by gone decades. I grew up watching Arsenic and Old Lace, Charade, and North by Northwest. When I watched This Island Earth it was with wonder and without the ironic overlay of MST3K. And as much as I enjoyed Encyclopedia Brown and Choose Your Own Adventure books, I spent way more time reading things like Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus, Have Spacesuit, Will Travel, and Andre Norton’s Star Rangers. I say all this because I want you to understand that when I say Rod Walker’s Mutiny in Space is the product of a by-gone age, I’m giving it the highest praise I can. Mild/Early spoilers follow.
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More Reviewer Praise for “God, Robot”

From Amazon unless specifically stated otherwise:

Get your copy here! And LEAVE A REVIEW!!!

  • 5.0 out of 5 starsMay God have mercy on our souls.,

    I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect going into this as the book is blatantly treading all over Asimov’s cultivated humanistic worldview. I expected something campy, philosophically engaging, and maybe a bit corny as I hadn’t yet to read any modern Christian authors that haven’t been. To my surprise and pleasure it was not corny, had just the right amount of camp, and really engaged me on a philosophical and theological level while telling stories with characters that made me care about them.

For the record, I find these sorts of reviews interesting. I’ve said it in the past, but it honestly never occurred to me that I was writing Christian fiction; I picked the concept because it sounded interesting. I’m pretty sure (though he’d have to confirm) that EJ Shumak’s robot wasn’t specifically Christian, and Vox Day’s definitely was not – yet both stories appear to have been very well received by readers, something I’m not at all surprised by. It was just a cool idea; that it ended up looking quite a lot like Christian fiction is something I’m not unhappy with but was never the plan.

  • 5.0 out of 5 stars True Sci-fi Philosophy
    By Joshua H.
    Fantastic series of short stories. Unlike anything. True old-school sci-fi/philosophy.
  • 5.0 out of 5 stars The whole is greater than the sum of its parts
    One can read each story on it’s own: it may be amusing, or straight up adventure, or grim, or contemplative… there’s a fair bit of variety in tone and style, as might be expected from having different authors for each one…However, all together they become complete speculative tale of how men might deal with the reality of true A.I. and Christianity. It’s also a real page-turner, despite having some wonderfully chewy philosophical meat on its bones. And I found the conclusion – no spoilers – truly poignant.
  • 5.0 out of 5 stars Reading twice is required
    A marvelous tale told in wonderful chapters. A belief in something greater then us has driven mankind to ultimate heights and deepest savagery. Here is a collection of stories about how belief can change individuals and entire worlds. You will read this and cheer, feel humble, and wonder about your place in the universe. A great ride as it will become, in my humble opinion, a classic.

(I really liked that last sentence ;-) .)

But the best yet, my true favorite review, is from Marina Fontaine of the Sci Phi Journal. Miss Fontaine reviews each story in detail, and ends her review with this:

And so, we come to the Epilogue, or which I will not speak except, as previously mentioned, the last paragraph made me cry…God, Robot is not a re-telling of an Asimov classic, nor is it a gimmicky story of science gone wrong. It is a tale of what makes us human, what makes us strive and fail and overcome. The reason so many adults are drawn to science fiction is because in showing us different possibilities, it reveals the truth we don’t always notice in everyday life. God, Robot succeeds in that regard, and therefore I can highly recommend it to dedicated science fiction fans as well to those who want to understand what makes this genre both special and timeless.

Awesome!

One last note: James Pyles (who wrote his own positive review) has taken inspiration to write his own tales of religious robots, all of which are excellent, and completely different from “God, Robot” in almost every way. I highly recommend them; they can be found on his blog “Powered by Robots”. The current full list of stories is here, as well as an additional story added since. Check them out!

The Conjuring 2

The Conjuring 2

With The Conjuring 2 dominating the weekend box office, now seems like a good time to expand on my short review from the most recent episode of Geek Gab.

The sequel to 2013’s The Conjuring, also helmed by director James Wan, this installment features the dramatization of another case from the files of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. Though a couple of the Warrens’ other famous investigations are referenced, the plot mostly revolves around the 1977 Enfield Poltergeist case.

Like all films “based on a true story”, The Conjuring 2 takes copious amounts of dramatic license with the original source material. But James Wan’s stated aim was to restore the reputation of studio horror films; not make a documentary.

Did he succeed? Let’s examine the movie in light of the director’s goal.

In case you’re totally unfamiliar with The Conjuring 2

…here’s the theatrical trailer.

Seeing as how the film’s premise is based on a highly publicized haunting that’s been in the media since 1977, I’m dispensing with spoiler warnings. I’ll also restrain myself from discussing major fictionalized plot details.

The facts in the real life case, as in the film, are that a young girl and her family experience strange phenomena in their North London home after she plays with a Ouija board.

Obligatory pneumatology PSA: legends, folklore, and old wives’ tales often contain a kernel of truth. The universally negative portrayal of Ouija boards and other methods of communicating with spirits is one nut that Hollywood’s blind squirrels reliably manage to find. DO NOT play around with this stuff.

And to head off the skeptic’s favorite sophomoric objection: it’s not that a mass-produced toy is magic. It’s that the chosen end of seeking undue power over preternatural beings and phenomena is inherently evil; not the specific means used.

The more you know

Back to the film review. When ongoing disturbances, including but not limited to strange noises, poltergeist activity, teleportation of people and objects, apparitions, spiritual oppression and possession drive the family from their home, paranormal investigators–including the Warrens–intervene. The ensuing case becomes one of the most well documented hauntings in history.

Analysis

The Conjuring 2 is an atmospheric, often smart, supernatural horror film with welcome thriller and mystery flourishes. James Wan set out to make a studio horror movie in the tradition of genre classics like Poltergeist and The Exorcist.

Although this movie doesn’t quite rise to the level of those iconic films, Wan does prove that “studio horror” doesn’t have to be synonymous with “lowest common denominator schlock” while producing a rare sequel that rivals the quality of the original.

This film’s greatest successes lie in three areas”

  • Background and foreshadowing: The Conjuring 2 cleverly sets up its main plot through a properly terrifying introduction that scores bonus points by delivering on a promise made at the end of the first movie.
  • Mood, atmosphere, and tone: director James Wan strikes a superb balance between visceral scares, psychological horror, existential dread, and, refreshingly, scattered rays of hope. The main theme that God remains ever present even in the midst of seemingly unrelenting terror shines through strongly.
  • Character: the writers, director, and actors deserve high praise for avoiding the cliched cardboard cutouts seen in too many horror movies and instead populating this film with believable characters whose problems we easily and immediately care about.
As for the film’s few drawbacks, the most egregious are a couple of scenes featuring obvious CG animation that’s visually and tonally dissonant with the setting. If you’ve seen Wan’s other, similarly themed series Insidious, you’ll instantly recognize the scenes I’ve described, as well as the director’s self-indulgence.
My other beef with the movie might be specific to those who are familiar with Catholic theology and ecclesiology, but in a movie that claims to be based on true events, this one sticks out.
The plot point in question–don’t worry about spoilers; it’s dumb, anyway–is the reason given for Ed and Lorraine’s involvement in the Enfield case. In the movie, the Church gets ahold of taped conversations with a self-identified 72 year-old dead guy spoken by an 11 year-old girl.
The Conjuring 2 trailer
“Priests like me are sworn to serve others’ spiritual needs hand and foot…but we don’t want to look bad, so we’ll just send a lay couple in case this one’s a hoax.”
The English hierarchy supposedly ask the American hierarchy to approach the Warrens about evaluating the goings-on  in Enfield, with the justification that the Church can’t be seen to be directly involved if the story turns out to be a hoax, because besmirching their reputation would hinder their ability to help people.
Such as the people they’re not helping already.

By sending proxies not empowered with the seal of Holy Orders into potential contact with demonic forces.

Proxies who publicly trade on their close affiliation with the Church anyway.

In real life, this isn’t happening. The local diocese is responsible for investigating claims of possession. Enfield is under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Westminster, home of English Catholicism’s mother church. The archbishop is unlikely to need assistance from a couple of Yanks.

Supporting this assessment, original Enfield Poltergeist investigator Guy Lyon Playfair said that in real life, the Warrens turned up uninvited.

Also contra the film version, it was a priest; not the Warrens, who helped the Hodgsons get their paranormal problems under control.

But in the finest movie tradition, The Conjuring 2 doesn’t let real life get in the way of a brilliant, climactic ending.

@BrianNiemeier

Brief Review: “Lord Talon’s Revenge”, by Tom Simon

This is brief because the longer review will eventually appear on Castalia House.

“Lord Talon’s Revenge” was almost exactly what I expected it to be. It was a fantasy novel that hints at being something of a cynical parody, but doesn’t quite go all the way. Mr. Simon is simply too fond and respectful of the genre, and of western civilization, to really mock fantasies; so instead he mocks BAD fantasies, then takes those tropes he mocked and elegantly shapes them into something wonderful.

Basically, he creates the world of “A Song of Ice and Fire”, a world full of backstabbing liars and villains and where the only hero is a hopeless idiot, spends time thoroughly tearing down the hopeless idiot, and then has said idiot pull himself up by his bootstraps and stick his thumb in Mr. George R.R. Martin’s eye, and with a smile on his face all the while.

But it wasn’t what I expected because, quite honestly, I expected it to be worse. My experience with Mr. Simon’s book of short fiction lead me to the conclusion that he was a pretty good fiction writer who sometimes achieved great depth of insight (as in his Smiggy McStudge stories/essays and related works). I expected something smart and entertaining, but not something brilliant.

And yet, brilliant is what I got. The characters were memorable; the plot intricate and complex but never convoluted; the prose sharp and memorable; the humor and parody dead-on and clever. And when Mr. Simon wanted to be serious, and tried for moments of beauty and longing, he managed it. Sections were genuinely stirring, and not at all in a humorless way.

Everyone who loves fantasies needs to read this book, and at less than three dollars, you have no excuse. Needless to say, I highly recommend it.

After you read it, WRITE A REVIEW!!!

Happy Anniversary, Nethereal!

Nethereal - Brian Niemeier

My indie publishing adventure began one year ago today when my first novel, Nethereal, went live on Amazon.

It’s been a wild ride, to say the least. In the past year, I’ve released my first book’s sequel, Souldancer, put together a second edition of Nethereal based on your feedback, got nominated for a Campbell Award, and received a coveted BOOK BOMB from super author Larry Correia that you guys made the fourth most successful he’s ever done!

Book Bomb
Do not underestimate the power of a Book Bomb!

It’s been said that half of self-published authors only earn $500 a year and sell about 250 books.

When I started this little publishing enterprise, I had no idea what sort of outcome to expect. It was entirely possible that everyone would hate my writing–or worse, ignore it.

Thanks to you, my growing ranks of readers and my fellow author friends, my first year sales have crushed the numbers cited above. I can’t thank you enough.

I now know that it’s possible to self-publish for a living. There’s still some altitude to gain before I reach that lofty peak, but it’s now much closer than the ground.

No turning back now.

I hope you’ll join me on the way up. And bring a friend.

What does the coming year hold? What’s really exciting is that I have no more idea what to expect this year than I did last year. Anything could happen!

One thing I do know: Soul Cycle Book III, the penultimate entry in the series, is coming along quite well. I’m aiming for a late 2016 launch, so watch this blog for updates and release dates.

In the meantime, what’s an anniversary without gifts?

Nethereal, the SFF book that started it all, is on sale today for $2.99 in the Kindle Store.

Already own Nethereal? Get the even better sequel Souldancer right now for the same low price!

Have you already read Nethereal and/or Souldancer but have been waiting to leave a review? What better time than on this auspicious day to share your informed opinions with me and Amazon’s customers?
Honest Amazon reviews benefit authors in several ways. For one thing, they figure into the Kindle Store’s ranking algorithm. Plus, Amazon ramps up their promotional efforts for books with 50 or more reviews. Last but not least, feedback is good. I read every review, and as Nethereal 2nd ed. shows, I listen to reviewer feedback.
Writing a review can seem daunting, but don’t worry! It’s perfectly fine to leave something as simple as, “I really liked this,” or “The story wasn’t to my taste.” Every little bit helps.
Thanks to all the folks who have already left reviews. If you’d like to express your opinion, please consider leaving a review for Nethereal, Souldancer, or both today.

Which Iron Man Film Is the Best in the Series?

Iron Man

It’s the series that turned a comic book character nobody had cared about since the Cold War into the hottest IP on the planet and redeemed its star’s career in the process. Initially considered a huge gamble, the Iron Man franchise kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe–a coup that the competition has been scrambling to replicate; so far without success.

Marvel Cinematic Universe

There’s no question that the MCU–and the Iron Man films in particular–have left an indelible mark on the pages of cinematic history. But do these movies live up to the astronomical hype they’ve generated? That loaded question aside, which epoch-making installment is the best of the bunch?

The quick and dirty answers: not really, and Captain America; Civil War.

Team Iron Man
Everything the Russos touch turns to gold–or in this case, gold-titanium alloy.

Alright, invoking the Russo brothers in this context is like entering Carl Lewis in a high school girls’ track meet.

To find the answer without cheating, I shall conduct a thorough analysis of the three standalone Iron Man films. Join me as I compare the relative merits of each movie according to objective standards of the cinematic and general storytelling arts.

WARNING: It’s impossible to run this kind of analysis without venturing into spoiler territory. If you haven’t seen Iron Man parts 1, 2, and 3 yet, a) welcome back from the desert island and b) correct your omission immediately.

OK. I’ll grant a dispensation from watching Iron Man 3. In fact, if it saves somebody the 90 minutes and five bucks I wasted on that flick, this post will qualify as a PSA.

Main Antagonist
A hero is defined by his enemies. It’s no exaggeration to say that the main villain can make or break a film.
Iron Man
Obadiah Stane Newsweek
Possibly the most badass picture of Jeff Bridges
A little-known fact about the first Iron Man: the original antagonist in early drafts of the script was none other than Howard Stark himself, who would have donned the War Machine armor to do battle with his own son.
Marvel almost certainly made the right call by scrapping that idea. They did carry over the father-son rivalry dynamic to the finished film, in which Howard’s lifelong friend Obadiah Stane violently turns on his late business partner’s heir.
I’m torn by Jeff Bridges’ turn as Stane. On the one hand, he tackles the role with maximum effort, as is his wont. On the other hand, Bridges himself admitted to having some discomfort with the production’s improv style.
 

Obadiah Stane’s real weakness has nothing to do with Bridges’ performance, but with the writing. He’s never given a compelling motivation to order the hit on Tony. He even highlights the foolishness of his decision by confessing that Tony is a “golden goose” whose lucrative ingenuity Stand can’t hope to match. Such petty, short-term thinking undermines his portrayal as a corporate tech genius.

Then, because clunky final battles were mandatory in MCU Phase One, the Dude goes crazy or something and suits up in an ambulatory Soyuz for frenetically shot yet plodding showdown with Shellhead.
Iron Man 2

Whiplash and Justin Hammer
Not pictured: Iron Man 2’s main antagonist

Let’s cut to the chase. Most critics of Iron Man 2 call out Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell for giving lackluster performances as the movie’s dual antagonists. These critics fail to understand a number of mitigating factors.

First, a lengthy amount of footage establishing Ivan Vanko’s motives and background were cut from the final version. So hate on Whiplash if you must, but blame the editing; not Rourke’s acting.

Second, Rourke went to absurd lengths to infuse his character with authenticity, even going so far as to spend some quality time in a Russian prison. Say what you will about his effectiveness as a villain. You can’t say that Rourke isn’t utterly convincing as a Russian lowlife.

Third, if you think that Justin Hammer is passive-aggressive and grating for no good reason, you’re not paying attention. From what I can tell, most critics assumed that Hammer is a pale imitation of Obadiah Stane. Viewing the character through that lens will produce a distorted image.

Stane was out for revenge. Or money. Or…honestly, it’s hard to say why he tried to have Tony killed. By contrast, Hammer’s motivation is much clearer. He’s not after Tony Stark’s head. He wants Tony’s approval.

Like Stane, Hammer knows he’s not in Tony’s league. Instead of murderous rage, Hammer’s envy turns into a deluded obsession with proving himself Tony’s equal. Stark repeatedly makes it clear that he views Hammer as an annoying tag along at best, but Hammer’s self-worth relies so heavily on Tony’s acceptance that he can’t let himself acknowledge his rival’s contempt.

Think I’m grasping at straws? Revisit Hammer’s dialog. The man makes a positive reference to James Joyce’s Ulysses for crying out loud! 90% of people who say they enjoyed that book haven’t read it, and 100% are lying about liking it just so highbrow literary types will think they’re smart.

All of the preceding is moot, however, because neither Vanko nor Hammer is Iron Man 2’s main antagonist.

Remember: the main antagonist is the character who poses the biggest obstacle between the main protagonist and his goal.

There’s no question that Tony Stark is the main protagonist. What does Tony want in Iron Man 2? He has two complimentary goals.

  1. Continue operating as Iron Man free of outside interference.
  2. Continue running Stark Enterprises as he sees fit.
Hammer and Vanko certainly obstruct the attainment of Tony’s goals. However, they merely complicate the major source of conflict imposed by this guy:
Garry Shandling - Senator Stern
A big prick hurts even more.
If Senator Stern, brilliantly portrayed by the late Garry Shandling, weren’t orchestrating a government shakedown against Tony for control of the Iron Man armor, Hammer wouldn’t be a threat at all and Vanko would’ve been neutralized in Monaco.
Not that Hammer and Whiplash are superfluous. Unlike most superheroes, Iron Man’s civilian persona is a force to be reckoned with in his own sphere. The best Iron Man stories give the Armored Avenger a super-powered foe to tangle with on the battlefield and a viable threat in the boardroom. While Stane ably filled the latter role in the first film, only Iron Man 2 presents our hero with equally formidable challenges in both arenas.
Dramatically upping the stakes, Iron Man 2 pits Tony against the most implacable foe of all: the United States Government.
Iron Man 3
Fake Mandarins
“I am the Mandarin!””No, I am!”Somehow, they’re both wrong.
Fake Mandarins.
Next.
OK. You want more exposition on the bait and switch that Iron Man 3 pulled with its main villain? How about Fake Mandarins Prompted by Cynical Pandering to the Chinese Market Passed off as Creative Integrity?

The minute you start to govern your creative impulses based on anticipation of someone else’s response or their expectations, then you’re going to fail. You’re going to fail them, too. Because you’re not going to surprise anybody – you’re going to be busy second-guessing what other people want and indulging that people-pleasing side of yourself.

-Iron Man 3 co-writer/director Shane Black

Have I mentioned lately how Hollywood hates its own audience?
Hey Shane, “they” are the people who pay your extravagant salary. It’s all well and good to surprise them. Just make sure you give them pleasant surprises; not pandering, PC, dirty tricks that betray the audience’s trust.
Best Main Antagonist: Iron Man 2
Stakes
While the main antagonist places obstacles in the hero’s path, the consequences of failing to surmount those obstacles largely determine the level of dramatic tension and audience engagement.
Iron Man
Obadiah Stane attempts to assassinate Tony Stark with Wile E. Coyote-level tenacity. If Tony doesn’t foil these schemes, he will die. Which would be a huge bummer.
Iron Man 2
The US government, represented by Senator Stern, will stop at nothing to acquire Iron Man’s technology for themselves. Unless Tony can stave off Congress while countering Justin Hammer’s industrial espionage and surviving Ivan Vanko’s vendetta, Stark weapons tech will be proliferated worldwide, reigniting the arms race and certainly heightening US foreign and domestic military intervention.
Iron Man 3
If Tony can’t stop Fake British Mandarin, Trevor Slattery will continue interrupting contrived, duplicitous television with equally contrived, marginally less duplicitous television.
Iron Man must stop Fake Hollywood Nerd Mandarin to escape an unwanted job offer at a corporation that makes super soldiers. The super soldiers explode, but only when it’s convenient to the plot.
Iron Man 3 Creepy Fire Monster Lady
Hey Shane, my creepy fire monster lady can beat up your creepy fire monster lady.
Highest Stakes: Iron Man 2
Plot
A protagonist vying for stakes against resistance supplied by the antagonist is what forms a plot. Let’s face it, all three Iron Man movies have pretty convoluted, sometimes nonsensical, plots.
But we need to pick a winner, so here goes!
Iron Man
An arrogant billionaire arms dealer gets a sharp lesson in humility from his own handiwork. With deadly shrapnel in his heart and a price on his head, he must use his natural genius and discover untapped reserves of courage to save his own life and atone for his mistakes.
In other words, the same superhero origin story that Hollywood–especially Marvel Studios–keeps churning out ad nauseum. Robert Downey Jr’s career-resurrecting performance elevates the material, though, and energizes the proceedings with a refreshing dose of fun.
Iron Man 2
Having embraced his pledge to make up for a lifetime of war profiteering, Tony Stark finds his successful privatization of world peace threatened by US government intervention. Heightening the tension, the only known treatment for Tony’s heart condition is proving as fatal as the malady itself.
The pressure sets off a midlife crisis which places Tony’s business, relationships, and life in even greater jeopardy while interference from an unscrupulous competitor and a vengeful nemesis further compounds his peril.
Will Tony find a reason beyond his own interests to be a hero before his time runs out and his powerful technology is set loose on the world?
Iron Man and War Machine
The most awesome fight in a cherry orchard since Bleach
Iron Man 3
Traumatized by events that happened in another series but are only vaguely alluded to here, Tony Stark throws himself into his work. No, not ensuring world peace. Puttering around in his basement. Meanwhile, his love life–and life on earth in general–circles the drain.
A character with a Chinese code name who’s played by a British actor of Indian extraction to avoid racism and certainly not to appease an audience that Hollywood desperately hopes to milk now that they’ve alienated most of the West, claims responsibility for a series of bombings.
When the director of the first two Iron Man movies is blasted into a coma, Tony argues with Pepper about their relationship, fails to prevent three helicopters form destroying a house packed with enough firepower to turn North America to glass, and visits Chattanooga, Tennessee. His panic attacks sporadically grind the story to a halt.
Pepper is abducted and infected with the same nanotech virus that makes some people explode, but turns most of them into super soldiers capable of shredding multiple Iron Man suits apiece. The dramatic tension needle remains fixed at zero.
Tony and Rhody team up. A sub-par episode of Riptide ensues.
Riptide
How Bill Gates really made his money
Culminating in…
Fake Mandarins
Fake Mandarins
Least irritating plot: Iron Man 1 and 2 tie.
The Best Iron Man Film
Iron Man 2
It’s not even that close. The first Iron Man set up an intriguing character and laid the groundwork for an enduring superhero mythos, but the sequel did what a good sequel should: deliver on the promises made in the original while raising the stakes and expanding the secondary world.
Yes, the first movie is good. But being an origin story, it only hints at the hero’s full potential. Only in Iron Man 2 do we get to see Tony Stark at the top of his superhero game squaring off against equally formidable superpowered opposition.
This movie keeps every promise made by its predecessor and does it in style. Rhody finally suiting up as War Machine and kicking drone ass after ogling the Mark II and vowing “Next time, baby” is one of the sweetest payoffs in the MCU to date.
I could go on, but the point has been made with mathematical precision. Iron Man 2 is the best film in the franchise. Case closed!
Special recognition for entry in the series that bends over the farthest to indulge the stars’ egos, the director’s condescending PC bullshit, and the studio’s servile greed goes to Iron Man 3.

Superversive Blog — Review of Diary of a Robot by S. Dorman

S. Dorman reviews Diary of a Robot by Lewis Jenkins

Diary of a robot

Diary of a Robot on Amazon

The oddest thing about Lewis Jenkins’s first novel, Diary of a Robot, is the robot’s prime directive. That the “Doc,” its inventor, succeeds in his artificially intelligent creation is shown in Jenkins’ premise — or conceit, if you will — that the AI is the one telling us its own story.  But, I have not yet revealed the weird — the robot’s prime directive.  In the robot’s diary are respectful nods to I, Robot, Isaac Asimov’s work, and touches of evident love for Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner.  You’ll find history, science fiction, and mystery in this story.

Dr. Little’s invention, the TM 2000—Robey (pronounced Row-bee)—is on its way to becoming a self-directed systems, software, and hardware testing machine. The “Doc” does not invent without the aid of his little company (TLC —The Little Company). In much of Jenkins’ book Robey displays the learning process of an artificial intelligence. But the book does so much more, as regards the imaginative reading experience. What we want while reading science fiction is hardware, suspense, defined characters, situation, and the “what if” or BIG IDEA.  This novel has that, and more — corporate espionage, bad news, abduction, impersonation, intimations of murder, and chess problems.  But the real more is in TM 2000’s process of testing, of learning, What’s a human being?. Many questions are asked (by The Machine) and, as we watch it mature toward its full intellectual stature, many more possible answers are given (also by The Machine).

Have you ever heard of a computer program designed to test for truth? And why would financial backers invest in a testing machine with such a prime directive? Although to “do no harm” is an important directive suggested by Asimov, Dr. Maynard Little’s team have encoded those specs and others—but secondarily.

Robey wants to determine the thoughts and intentions of the human heart. Its aim is incisive: Precision in reading the human intention in order to act toward its goal of perceiving the truth about each person. Intelligently, even heroically, Robey intends to achieve it. Being designed specifically for the task, nothing can stop it but a command to … stop?…  What if the command to stop is not based on truth —?

Robey’s heroism comes in when his maker, Doc Little, commands him to shut down. Not to turn itself off because Robey has disobeyed its directives, but because it has. From there on, The Doc gets his wish, and havoc results in the AI department of The Little Company.

Do you like exposition and introspection? This is the SF for you. If you read to escape, or for respite from, introspection, this book may not be for you. Yet, it’s a fun and funny novel.  The frequent SF take on AI, e.g. Clarke’s HAL, is often sinister, but this robot is different in being innocently tedious, or irritating, boring, obnoxious, office-disrupting; some kind of pain, depending on who is charging/spending time developing (in concert with Robey) its core directive.  The reader has fun watching it “test” (read bedevil) the crew at TLC.  However, we see that Robey is a servant and understands that it is a servant. Everyone is either Mr. or Ms., e.g. Mr. Guy and Ms. Marie. Robey is also, of course, the ultimate testing machine. This is, after all, how it makes money for The Little Company. There’s an abundance of humor in this book, the kind I like. I won’t give examples because the humor is always contextual. The kind that punctuates (or punctures) the silence of reading with small explosions of laughter.

A big theme, a BIG IDEA, in Robey’s story is (metaphorically) the increasing influence of surveillance in our lives.  C.S. Lewis has said about our human condition that the more we take precautions to be secure, the less secure we feel.   But this Big Idea is also not present at first in Jenkins’ story of Robey.  Instead, as intelligent software and machines increase at TLC, themes of security and surveillance accelerate the Diary’s narrative force, while underscoring C.S. Lewis’s observation about our condition.

Diary of a Robot is not a review of my brother.  It is a review of my brother’s book.

Diary of a Robot on Lulu

Brief Review: “The Worm of the Ages and Other Tails”, by Tom Simon

This is a brief review of the book, also posted to Amazon. Expect a much more in-depth version next Tuesday on the Castalia House blog.

This is an excellent collection of “tails”, though with the caveat that some stories are better than others. Mr. Simon has a very dry wit about him that characterizes his best stories.

The title story “The Worm of the Ages” is probably the weakest, though is still quite strong. Nevertheless, I can’t deny the deja vu feeling that I was reading a re-telling of a scene from “The Silmarillion”. A pretty good one, true, but it felt a bit derivative.

Things improve from then on. The following stories are much funnier, which suits Mr. Simon. His very best tale, “A case of vengeance”, is in the vein of the excellent Smiggy McStudge stories from his website, bondwine.com. It is about a demon who tortures a soul in hell by giving him the opportunity to wreak vengeance on the man he has murdered over and over again, until he is nothing more than slush consumed with the dull urge to destroy.

The best lines in this tale have a black wit to them reminiscent of the best of Screwtape’s letters, and a depth of insight characteristic of his brilliant non-fiction essays. Clever, funny, and insightful – what more can you want?

But all of the stories are very good. This book is highly recommended.

To all thinking of buying it: LEAVE A REVIEW ON AMAZON!!!! It can be one line, but it makes the book more visible and helps to convince people to give it a shot. The more reviews, the more it shoots up the Amazon lists and the more people will buy it. This is VERY IMPORTANT!

Reusable Space-plane

Credit: DARPA
DARPA’s Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) system would have a reusable first stage that would fly to hypersonic speeds at a suborbital altitude.

space plane

DARPA this week detailed the next development phase of its reusable Mach 10 satellite taxi capable of carrying and deploying a 3,000- 5,000 lb. satellite into low earth orbit (LEO) at a target cost of less than $5M per launch.

The reusable Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) XS-1 will demonstrate the potential for low cost and “aircraft-like” high operations payload delivery to orbit. DARPA said Phase 2 and 3 development will likely see a single contract worth $140M (Phase II – $123M, Phase III – $17M). The research agency in 2014 awarded Boeing (working with Blue Origin) Masten Space Systems (working with XCOR Aerospace) and Northrop Grumman Corporation (working with Virgin Galactic) contracts to begin phase 1 XS-1 work.

DARPA’s Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) system would have a reusable first stage that would fly to hypersonic speeds at a suborbital altitude. At that point, one or more expendable upper stages would separate and deploy a satellite into LEO. The reusable first stage would then return to earth, land and be prepared for the next flight. Modular components, durable thermal protection systems and automatic launch, flight and recovery systems should significantly reduce logistical needs, enabling rapid turnaround between flights.

“During Phase 1 of the XS-1 program, the space industry has evolved rapidly and we intend to take advantage of multiple impressive technological and commercial advances,” said Jess Sponable, DARPA program manager. “We intend to leverage those advances along with our Phase 1 progress to break the cycle of escalating DoD space system launch costs, catalyze lower-cost satellite architectures, and prove that routine and responsive access to space can be achieved at costs an order of magnitude lower than with today’s systems.”

According to DARPA XS-1 has four primary technical goals:

Fly 10 times in a 10-day period (not including weather, range and emergency delays) to demonstrate aircraft-like access to space and eliminate concerns about the cost-effectiveness and reliability of reusable launch.
Achieve flight velocity sufficiently high to enable use of a small (and therefore low-cost) expendable upper stage.
Launch a 900- to 1,500-pound representative payload to demonstrate an immediate responsive launch capability able to support defense department and commercial missions. The same XS-1 vehicle could eventually also launch future 3,000+- pound payloads by using a larger expendable upper stage.
Reduce the cost of access to space for 3,000+-pound payloads, with a goal of approximately $5 million per flight for the operational system, which would include a reusable booster and expendable upper stage(s).

John C. Wright’s Iron Chamber of Memory

John C. Wright - Iron Chamber of Memory

The mystery of an island where the past never ended.

Riddles in an ancient house whose doors remain locked; not to keep thieves out, but to keep ghosts in.

A quest for the Holy Grail, and a love triangle worthy of Arthurian legend.

Murder plots, skin changers, cases of mistaken identity, and meditations on memory and storytelling itself–all of these things, and many more, reside within the Iron Chamber of Memory.

Every writer has a deeply personal project–a labor of love written not under contractual obligation or an editor’s deadline, but at the muses’ direction. All too often, commercial pressures relegate such convention-defying works to obscurity in lower desk drawers and forgotten shoe boxes in the backs of closets.

Luckily for us, John C. Wright submitted his trunk novel to the fine folks at Castalia House, who have published it to high acclaim.

Whatever you’re expecting from Iron Chamber of Memory going in, know that the book will deliver on your expectations, plus myriad others you never knew you had.

Craving a romance about lovers desperate to overcome the insurmountable obstacles keeping them apart? Wright has dreamed up the most creative and diabolically clever source of conflict I’ve ever heard of in that genre.

Looking for a mystery set in a medieval mansion on a remote island fiefdom that turns on masterful misdirection, ingenious plot twists, and philosophical pondering on the nature of memory to shame Christopher Nolan? Iron Chamber of Memory will keep you turning pages long past bedtime.

Do you seek something more profound–answers to why heaven allows evil to reign on earth, or how mercy can coexist with perfect justice? Wright’s novel treats these questions as seriously as any work by C.S. Lewis while maintaining the integrity of the story as story.

It’s rare for a book that combines so many genres to achieve such a satisfying result. A major reason why Wright excels where countless others manage only mediocrity is that he didn’t set out to create a genre mashup. He wrote as the spirit moved him and left the genre labels to his publisher.

Describing Iron Chamber of Memory much further is difficult without risking spoilers. I can mention other books that this one reminded me of, including The Sorcerer’s House by Gene Wolfe, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, and Lovecraft’s Dream Cycle. Yet here, the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts.

To indulge in a bit of brazen flogging, the mood, themes, situations, and symbolism found within Iron Chamber of Memory reminded me of my own book Souldancer. Any connection may not be entirely coincidental, since Mr. Wright’s wife also edited my novel.

In conclusion, I highly recommend Iron Chamber of Memory by John C. Wright to any lover of Gothic romance, preternatural mysteries, or historical fiction who also appreciates the higher Mysteries of supernatural love and atonement.

@BrianNiemeier

SUPERVERSIVE meanders a bit today: It can’t always be scifi.

One of things that made me fall in love with anime back in the 90s was the sheer amount of science fiction you could find in anime, and how inventive they tended to be. In recent years, I feel like “inventive” hasn’t necessarily been the way I would describe anime offerings, but honestly, I’m not sure if that’s me being a curmudgeonly old man or if that’s just a symptom that Hollywood’s infected Japan with the need to constantly rehash things in ever less pleasing ways. Maybe it’s both.

It’s probably not fair to assume that it’s mostly inferior offerings now; the internet has certainly made it more easily available. There’s less investment involved, meaning a company (or fansub group) doesn’t have to be absolutely sure that a show’s worth the trouble the way they had to be when we were buying VHS tapes (or mailing blank ones to people you’d never met in exchange for copied fansubs). The downside of that is you get a lot of garbage over here now; the upside of that is that sometimes you get shows you never would’ve seen in the US during the 90s. For example: what red blooded man looks at show called The Daily Lives of High School Boys (frequently abbreviated as Nichibros, from the Japanese title) and thinks, “Man, that show sounds awesome. Let me buy it two episodes at a time while paying extra for subtitles at Suncoast!” Continue reading

Review: Writing Down the Dragon

Tom Simon’s “Writing Down the Dragon” is an excellent resource of essays, musings and research on Tolkien.

 

This body of essays covers a wide variety of elements that go into Lord of the Rings and related works. There are essays on Tolkien’s love of language, and linguistic feats involved in his works and characters. There is also a great deal of serious and deep thought on the nature of good and evil in these works. My personal favorite was the in-depth thought into the morality of Elves, Orcs and even Dragons.
Tom goes into an analysis of the morality of Elves, where they are superior beings, representing beauty and an unfallen state. He also goes into a detailed account of how they have changed from other Elves, the Elves and Fair Folk of myths before, and how innovate a chance Tolkien made. Both sorts of Elves, Tolkien’s, and the original myths, still shine most of the faerie folk of later literature, all too often lacking in depth are anything of the otherworldliness of the older Elves.

 

Orcs pose a significant moral question: can they be good? Since Morgoth who made the Orcs cannot create, only twist and warp that which is, Tom gives serious consideration to the morality of these accursed beings. His gives a serious study on neurology and psychopathy, and postulates that the Orcs may be the result to turn a whole people into psychopaths.

 

Dragons come off not so much as having morality, but being definitive of mental concepts. Smaug, for example, IS greed, and nothing more. Personally, I thought there was a great deal of pride and wrath there as well, and the corrupt old worm seemed to actually relish having someone to talk to (before he ate him, naturally). There is a great piece about the pet dragons of popular literature, and how likely the master/pet relationship would be reversed in any realistic telling. Examining the Asiatic dragons, he integrates myth and the philosophy of the far east to create a very believable nightmare scenario of a dragon empire.
Carefully thought out, deeply researched, and entertaining to read, this is an excellent addition for the Tolkien lover.

Why I Prefer “The Avengers” to “Civil War”

(For that matter, I prefer “The Winter Soldier” as well, though pretty much entirely because of superior pacing.)

In my previous review of “Captain America: Civil War”, I opined that “The Avengers” was the better film, and after some thinking, I stand by that opinion. Good as “Civil War” was, “The Avengers” is still the best movie Marvel has done to date.

For me, it comes down to what you value most in a movie. In superhero movies, you need good action scenes. Need them. You just do. If your action scenes are “meh”, you better be damn good in every other category to make up for it (hi, “The Dark Knight”).

As far as action scenes go, the Russo brothers have the edge by far. The big action set piece in “The Avengers” is the alien battle at the end. The battle had little personally at stake. Yes, there were big general stakes, for lack of a better word. New York will be destroyed if the alien invasion isn’t stopped. This is important! But as far as the main characters go, a loss isn’t actually going to affect their relationship much, because their character arcs are already complete. Tony basically says as much in his excellent one-on-one with Loki earlier in the film (Whedon is the master of dialogue, arguably the best dialogue writer in the business).

This was no clash of ideologies, like the Mal/Operative fight in “Serenity” (remember, the general stakes there were actually fairly low – Mal wasn’t saving the world, but revealing a secret). In that fight, the battle is a battle of philosophies: Utilitarianism vs. natural law. This isn’t the case in “The Avengers”. It’s a battle of superheroes vs. monsters trying to kill everybody. The climax had already been reached when the Avengers assembled before the battle.

In “Civil War” the stakes are extremely personal. Friend vs. friend. We have poor Tony, desperately doing everything in his power to prevent Cap’s death (Robert Downey Jr.’s delivery of “Because it’s us” is absolutely perfect, a line that could have been trite but in the hands of such a superb actor is gut-wrenching). We have Cap, trying to avoid a fight but simply unable, because he sees a bigger picture that Tony can’t believe. There’s world-saving in the background, but the foreground is the very personal battle of people who don’t want to fight but have no choice in the matter.

(By the way, to defend a common criticism of “Civil War”, Tony bringing in teenage Spider-Man is hardly worse than Cap bringing in Scarlet Witch, who can’t be much older, if she’s older at all).

Plus, the choreography is much better. That’s a truly amazing fight scene, one of the greatest fights in the history of the genre, as are the ones in “The Winter Soldier”.

So much for the things “Civil War” gets better. Now why do I prefer “The Avengers”?

One reason is simple: “The Avengers” is perfectly paced. Perfectly. There is not a line, not a moment, that is wasted, one of Whedon’s hallmarks (“Serenity” is also a perfectly paced film). Everything has a purpose. If a relatively minor character like Agent Coulson is given an amusing scene early in the film, it not only helps humanize him, it also helps drive a large portion of the plot later in the film. If the airship is falling out of the sky, it isn’t just an entertaining action scene, it’s the culmination of Loki’s plan. Hawkeye becomes sympathetic with hardly any dialogue at all; every single scene, every interaction, both establishes character AND moves the plot. The economy of writing is masterful.

Pacing is, perhaps, “Civil War’s” biggest flaw. Get ready; this next paragraph contains SPOILERS. Those who have not seen the movie are encouraged to skip it.

Probably a good half hour of the film could have been cut entirely. The airport fight could have been moved to the super-soldier base, and instead of a gap in-between we could flow directly from there to the final Cap/Bucky/Iron Man fight and the big reveal. Simply have them get separated somehow; I can think of a few ways. When all three are in the building, they find the super-soldiers, and realize, Surprise! Steve was right all along. They briefly reconcile. Then they look closer; something isn’t right. These soldiers have bullet holes in their heads. They’re already dead. And then Zemo steps out of the shadows…

The rest of the movie proceeds normally from there. This has two advantages. First, it gets rid of the less interesting filler between fights. Even if you don’t want non-stop battles you can’t deny that a brief respite followed by the reveal would be overall more interesting than the long, arguably pointless series of scenes in between. And second, it helps the climax. After the magnificent airport battle the final battle seems underwhelming – but put them right next to each other and you essentially have one big battle capped with a personal standoff between friends. Suddenly it feels like a real climax instead of a (admittedly minor) step down.

This also goes back to economy of dialogue. “Civil War” is not nearly as good as “The Avengers” at bringing in new characters. People new to the MCU would have no idea who the heck that shrinky guy is, or anything about him; sure he’s funny, but we know next to nothing about the character. How did he get there? Why do we care about him? To those unfamiliar with “Ant Man” (a fun film itself), he feels random and out of place. They do better with Spider-Man but Hawkeye is similarly undeveloped. You get no sense of who he is.

“The Avengers”, in contrast, can be understood perfectly by people who have never watched the previous films. Black Widow’s introductory scene basically explains her entire character in a nutshell. The Hulk’s development is perfect. I had never seen the previous Hulk movie, but I figured out who the character was because of the hints dropped throughout the film. We realize quickly that, for some dangerous reason, He Can’t Get Angry. Captain America is developed less in scenes than lines of dialogue. He’s a man out of time; he’s a soldier; he’s a leader; he hates bullies. There. Captain America. “There’s only one God, ma’am” is a brilliant line that showcases Whedon’s pitch-perfect understanding of exactly who these characters are. Nobody is better at ensemble casts than Joss Whedon.

“Civil War” has the smarter and more serious plot, but it depends more on characterization from previous films than its own writing. There were some zingers, but Whedon had the more memorable dialogue, and I got the sense that Tony’s arc especially was driven more by Robert Downey Jr.’s acting, and the events of “Iron Man 3″, than the dialogue of “Civil War”.

It’s true that a smarter plot is nothing to sneeze at, and it’s true that the Russo brothers certainly understood their characters and put them through the emotional wringer – but proper characterization is more important than plot: If you believe the characters will act the way they do, you excuse plot holes, because you want to be entertained without feeling betrayed. If your characters are consistent, your plot need only be entertaining, and while Loki’s plan made no sense, it still felt like something Loki would do – but a great plot is nothing if your characters are not acting in character.

This never happens in “Civil War”, but it also doesn’t do as good a job in its dialogue or its characterization. In those more important aspects, “The Avengers” is superior (it helps that they boast the only truly interesting MCU movie villain). I was wowed by the ending of “Civil War”, but I was entertained more by “The Avengers”, and that’s ultimately why I came to the movies.

I love both movies. “Civil War” is an excellent film, a tier 1 MCU entry and one of the better superhero films of all time. But “The Avengers” is the best of the best, a masterclass in dialogue and characterization and one of the more pure “comic book” films of the genre – as in, I felt as if I was watching a comic come to life. And while I understand why one would prefer “Civil War” for those reasons, as well as the far superior pacing, “The Avengers” is still ultimately the superior film.

This just goes to show the quality of the MCU. If “Civil War” isn’t their best film…well, that’s why they’ve had one of the most successful runs in movie history.

New — Space Opera serial SUPERLUMINARY!!!

The following post is from: John C. Wright

0 SUPERLUMINARY

An internet magazine hired me to write an old-fashioned space opera in the mood and flavor of ‘World Wrecker’ Hamilton to run in fifty or so weekly episodes of two-thousand word each.

However, the magazine folded and returned the rights to me. It is my wish to bring it to my fan (Hi, Nate!) directly.

The title is SUPERLUMINARY.

The plot is this: The sole survivor of an illfated expedition to Pluto finds the Infinithedron, a library of supertechnology from the alien race that created life on earth and guided evolution to produce mankind.

He returns to earth only to discover world war has decimated civilization. Rather than sharing the secrets, he uses them to conquer mankind, impose peace and order, but also abolishing aging, disease, famine.

Lord Tellus (as he calls himself) imprints each of his children with a different branch of the alien science, but the whole of it is taught to none. These Lords of Creation (as they call themselves) are commanded to create life on each of the worlds and moons of the solar system. Scores of artificial intelligent races are fashioned, who adore the children as godlike. The secret of faster than light drive Lord Tellus keeps to himself: mankind he keeps in the solar system. But what is his reason?

He goes mad, and his children rise up in rebellion, and he vanishes, leaving behind mysteries and guesses.

Aeneas Tell, son of Lady Venus, youngest of the imperial family, dreams of overthrowing the his family in favor of a republic, but when he introduces a rebel into the imperial palace for a coup, he is betrayed, and barely escapes with his life, and flees to Pluto.

Here Aeneas discovers the horrific secret his grandfather was hiding, and an ancient evil that sleeps beneath the eternal ice. Aeneas finds himself snared in a labyrinth of intrigue, striving somehow to convince his Machiavellian family to cooperate against a mutual foe none of them credit.

Read the first episode here:

https://www.patreon.com/posts/superluminary-01-5489523

Machine Masters legal counsel

Machine Masters legal counsel
From the Washington Post–

robot-evolution-GIF

One of the country’s biggest law firms has become the first to publicly announce that it has “hired” a robot lawyer to assist with bankruptcy cases. The robot, called ROSS, has been marketed as “the world’s first artificially intelligent attorney.”

ROSS has joined the ranks of law firm BakerHostetler, which employs about 50 human lawyers just in its bankruptcy practice. The AI machine, powered by IBM’s Watson technology, will serve as a legal researcher for the firm. It will be responsible for sifting through thousands of legal documents to bolster the firm’s cases. These legal researcher jobs are typically filled by fresh-out-of-school lawyers early on in their careers.

“ROSS surfaces relevant passages of law and then allows lawyers to interact with them. Lawyers can either enforce ROSS’s hypothesis or get it to question its hypothesis,” Andrew Arruda, chief executive of ROSS Intelligence, explained to The Washington Post. “Until now, lawyers have been using static pieces of software to navigate the law, which are limited and put hours of information retrieval tasks on a lawyer’s plate.” The software allows the legal team to upvote and downvote excerpts based on the robot’s interpretation of the question. ROSS uses machine learning technology to fine tune its research methods. The legal robot is accessed via computer and billed as a subscription service.

China buying up robots

China buying up robots
If you think robots really are going to take all the jobs, then owning one of the world’s biggest robot-makers would seem a smart strategic move.So the offer by Chinese consumer appliance group Midea for a probable majority stake in Germany’s Kuka is logical — even if the 60 per-cent premium is outlandish by the normal standards of takeover deals.Four companies — Germany’s Kuka, Switzerland’s ABB and Japan’s Fanuc and Yaskawa Electric — dominate the market for industrial robots. If you want an experienced robotics group with a global footprint and top-notch technology, you don’t have many options. ABB’s robot arm is a core part of the Swiss conglomerate while Fanuc is famously independent and secretive (just ask activist Dan Loeb).
Robot Overlords
European and Japanese companies dominate the market for industrial robots.

12065683-Silver-android-robot-with-thumb-up-smiling-3d-illustration-on-white-Stock-Illustration

The Quantum Thief trilogy by Hannu Rajaniemi

The Quantum Thief by Hannu RajaniemiI’ve probably established that I’m a fan of giant robot stories by now, but that’s not actually where my fondest love lies, sci-fi-wise. Mecha and power armor are great features that I absolutely love, but they’re not a necessity. A story weak on sense of wonder (or some other draw) won’t pull me in just because it’s got Teh Mechs. And it’s hard to really put a finger on one thing or another that is my absolute favorite sci-fi setting or future, but I’ll be darned if I don’t go nuts for a good far future setting that’s barely recognizable as a human society.

Which is a pretty darn good description for the setting of Hannu Rajaniemi’s mostly-nameless post-cyberpunk trilogy. (I’ve heard it referred to as “The Gentleman Thief trilogy,” but that could very well be drawing from its inspiration rather than Rajaniemi himself.) Set sometime after a technological Singularity in the mediumly-distant past, the trilogy’s solar system is host to a number of civilizations descended from humankind. On Earth, more-or-less baseline humans live in a city tormented by a world-girdling desert of rogue nanotechnology in a distinctly Arabian Nights setting. On Mars, humans live for a time as human beings, and for a time as robotic “Quiet” who maintain the cities. The Oort cloud is home to a culture of a people descended from the Finnish living inside hollowed out comets. Finally, there is the Sobornost, a group of god-like uploads from the Singularity who more or less control the solar system, save for opposition from their only real competitors, the Zoku. The Zoku themselves are another group of uploads, and probably my favorite of the bunch; they’re descended from MMO guilds. Hundreds or thousands of years later, when the trilogy happens, they’re nerds with recognizable tastes who now sometimes don material forms to have LAN parties as a cultural ritual.

In the midst of all this is Jean le Flambeur, the gentleman thief. Apparently based on Maurice Leblanc’s Lupin (which I’ve not had the pleasure of reading), Jean has long since ran afoul of the Sobornost and has been reduced to a single iteration locked inside a Dilemma Prison in the outer solar system, forced to repeatedly play simulations of the Prisoner’s Dilemma with other inmates as a kind of rehabilitation. Fortunately or maybe unfortunately for him, however, one of the Sobornost minds has use for his skills and sends the Oortian Mieli to break him out of the Dilemma Prison.

Most of The Quantum Thief takes place in the Martian city of the Oubliette. Time is a currency here, and when you run out, your mind is uploaded to the “Quiet” for several decades to earn enough time to live on again. (The book predates Andrew Niccol’s film In Time by about a year.) The portions that don’t directly follow Jean or Mieli center on amateur detective Isidore Beautrelet, hired by a wealthy citizen to investigate a note promising that Jean le Flambeur would be breaking into his mansion during a lavish party. As you can probably guess, hijinks ensue, and by the end of the trilogy, the stakes broaden out quite a bit, driven by the individual agendas of Jean, Mieli, the various Sobornost minds, and anyone else with the clout to make things happen in the solar system.

I enjoyed The Quantum Thief enough to preorder its followups (The Fractal Prince and The Causal Angel) as they became available– which is high praise. Usually, only John C. Wright gets a pre-order from me. Like I said, I like strange far futures and Rajaniemi’s future is probably one of the strangest. So that’s a selling point for me.

It’s also the source of my biggest criticism of it, however. As much fun as I had with these books, as much as I enjoyed seeing them unfold and seeing Rajaniemi playing around with his ideas, the man’s narrative style is unforgiving. I’ve literally been reading science fiction for almost as long as I’ve been able to read; I hit A Wrinkle In Time around 7 and Pocket Book’s Star Trek novels around 9. I’m not exactly a newcomer to the genre, and there were times when I was still struggling to grasp the details of Rajaniemi’s universe. Some things were fairly clear, like time as a currency and the use of “exomemory” on Mars. But other things, like the layers of virtual privacy that the Martians call gevulot, required some research to get the gist of.  Usually you can let the strangeness of a story wash over you and get the idea from the shape of it; there’s so much strange here that trying that will suck you out to sea. And going into each novel with a year or so between them was harder than normal because of that– particularly when The Fractal Prince moved the events to Earth and The Causal Angel to Saturn, both vastly different settings from the Oubliette.

But again, I own these books in hardcover, two of which were bought when I knew how dense and obscure they’d be. They’re on my list to come back to one day and reread; I have a feeling that they’ll reward a rereading. Probably not like Wolfe. It’s a different sort of novel, and a different sort of dense. But I do feel like they merit a return, and probably consideration by other readers.

The Quantum Thief (Jean le Flambeur)

Instalanche for Nobility Among Us!

Checking my post-countdown sales figures to see if the final day’s momentum was being continued, I noticed an unusual (and very welcome) upturn in sales of Nobility Among Us yesterday and today. A quick google search revealed the source, Nobility Among Us has the honour of being being featured at Instapundit, thanks to the ever-awesome Sarah A. Hoyt. People in the comments have been saying some nice things about my writing, making me literally jump for joy (causing my middle son to come running into the room to find the source of the loud thumping noise) :)

http://pjmedia.com/instapundit/234415/

Click the image below to take a look at the book itself. (the left image is for the ebook, the right one for the paperback

 

This sales boost has meant a new record Amazon ranking for the kindle ebook:

Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #13,144 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

 

Nethereal BOOK BOMB!

I’m proud to announce that today I’m joining forces with best selling author Larry Correia to BOOK BOMB! my breakout SF-fantasy novel Nethereal.

What is a BOOK BOMB? I’ll let Larry explain:

For those of you unfamiliar with Book Bombs, what we do is pick a good book and a deserving author that could use a publicity boost, and then all purchase their novel on the same day on Amazon. Since Amazon updates its sales rankings with this rolling average algorithm, the more books bought on the same day, the higher it gets in the rankings. The higher it gets, the more new eyes see it, and the more new readers the author is exposed to. Success breeds success, and most importantly the author GETS PAID.

In this case, the lucky author is me :)

I’ll actually be posting the Book Bomb post the night of the 17th, because it appears that Amazon now has about a ten hour delay before the sales register. Gone are the wild west days where a book would begin climbing an hour after the Book Bomb started, and it isn’t nearly as awesome to hit the peak at 2 AM when most people are asleep and won’t see it.

You might be wondering how Larry selects books to bomb. Here are his stated criteria:

Why did I pick Brian for this month’s Book Bomb? First, I really liked the book. Second, he’s just starting out, and he’s a super nice guy.

Thank you, Larry! I’m honored to be lavished with such high praise from an author as accomplished as yourself. Your manatee will be released on schedule at the agreed-upon site–which is a relief, because he’s halfway through my last drum of Cheetos.
Anyway, welcome, members of the Monster Hunter Nation and all readers who’ve taken an interest in the BOOK BOMB! Here’s a foretaste of what Nethereal has in store.
About Nethereal
A woman like no other who longs for acceptance.
A precision killer inspired by the dream of his captain.
The last member of a murdered race, fighting to avenge his people against the might of the Guild…and the dark powers behind it.
The Sublime Brotherhood of Steersmen holds the Middle Stratum in its iron grip. Jaren Peregrine, last of the Gen, raids across fringe space with Nakvin—her captain’s best pilot and only friend, apprentice steersman Deim, and mercenary Teg Cross.
Hunted by the ruthless Master Malachi, Jaren and his crew join a conspiracy to break the Guild’s monopoly with an experimental ship. But when its maiden voyage goes awry, the Exodus flies farther off course than its crew could have imagined.
OK. You know about the book. Larry has recommended it. Get over to Amazon and buy it! Nethereal (Soul Cycle Book 1)
And for those who already own Nethereal, the even better sequel Souldancer is on sale now for $2.99.
Thanks again to Larry and everyone who’s helped to make this BOOK BOMB! a success.

NEW ANTHOLOGY SUBMISSIONS OPEN: Tales of the Once and Future King

  • Submission Period: May 16, 2016 – July 16, 2016
  • We will accept .doc and .docx submissions ONLY
  • Only standard manuscript format accepted
  • Payment: Pro Rata depending on the number of stories accepted – an equal percentage of royalties will be split
  • Word Count: Anywhere between 500-10,000 words
  • Poetry WILL be considered
  • Send stories to kingarthuranthology@aol.com
  • E-mail subject: SUBMISSIONS/Story Title

Calling all writers! As of today, I am opening up submissions to a new anthology: “Tales of the Once and Future King”. This will be an anthology of juvenile stories about King Arthur and all things Arthurian related. Juvenile is a broad term that can mean anything from a “Chronicles of Narnia” reading level to the later Harry Potter books.

The guidelines are very broad. Since it’s juvenile:

  • No sex
  • No unnecessary gore
  • No nihilism

HOWEVER – “juvenile” is not the same as “sanitized”. So:

  • There CAN be romance
  • There CAN be fighting
  • Things CAN get dark

We don’t want to see stories that talk down to children. Children are young, not morons.

No stories that insult the Arthurian tradition. This means nothing like “And King Arthur was really a BAD King and later scribes changed it!” or “Chivalry is sexist and horrible and the knights were all misogynist pigs”. This is one that’s more on our end than yours – if you think it might work, submit it, and we’ll see what we think.

Stories that insult Christianity probably won’t be accepted. I have no problem if you’re more interested in things like Druidic mysticism or Paganism than Christianity, it’s just flat-out insults I’m not really interested in. Once again, if you’re not sure, submit it and we’ll make the call.

“Arthurian” is a broad term. If any of the knights are mentioned, or the Holy Grail, or Merlin, we probably will count it. If you’re not sure, submit it and cross your fingers. The stories can be set literally anywhere or any time. If you want to submit a story where Arthur and his knights are fighting Lovecraftian Eldritch abominations, or Arthur is a pirate, or they’re all cave men, go to town.

The anthology will be edited by myself and my assistant editor, Mariel Marchetta. It will be released in September. Simultaneous submissions ARE permitted so long as you tell us IMMEDIATELY if you decide to go with another publisher.

Now go crazy! This should be fun.