Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Hello, Hello by Seanan McGuire

This was a charming and warm story about a mother of young children who is a computer scientist specializing in language translation AI programming.

She has a sister who is deaf and uses an AI that is programmed to translate American sign language.

Communication is done primarily over Skype and the use of avatars is commonplace.  One day she gets a call, from her sister's number, but instead of her sister's avatar there is an image of a default face which is having trouble communicating.

The kids are taken by this stranger, finding he or she funny, and they enjoy trying to talk with it.  This makes the mother very nervous.

With a bit of digging the truth is discovered which, in turn, may create a new market for translation AIs.

Like I said, charming, even though the twist was easy to figure out, I did like how the story moved beyond the telling of the mystery.

Seanan McGuire's website - http://www.seananmcguire.com/

Seanan McGuire

Monday, September 18, 2017

Becoming Canada by Ken Dryden - Book Report #200!


My goodness this was an illuminating book.

Ken Dryden, one of this country's towering members, wrote a book to explain Canada to Canadians.  And I thank him for it.

In it he tells a bit about our history, our collective personality and our relationship to America.

The bulk of the book explains the Harper years.  Which was fascinating, not being a politically engaged person, I always "felt" that something was off about his terms as Prime Minister, now I understand why.

The last few chapters explores how our collective sense of self is evolving and becoming something quite unique.

Having been published in 2010 I think a new edition would be a welcomed thing.  Many of his observations have proven true and have evolved since then.

This was the first book of Dryden's that I've read and I was very impressed by it.

Ken Dryden


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Watcher from the Man Descending collection by Guy Vanderhaeghe

I came across Vanderhaeghe's name from reading Roy MacGregor's book.

My awakening of all things Canadian has begun to spin into the fiction I'm reading.  Up until now I have always read some kind of genre story.  My chief frustration with science fiction is the amount of exposition most stories require. There always has to be an explanation of the situation we are in and the rules of this new universe.

With literary fiction there is none of that.  We just need to know when and where the story takes place, we already know the rules of planet Earth.

But I have never read literary fiction.  I have always assumed there is a fundamental lack of plot and why would I want to read about nothing really happening?

But, I decided, if I am going to read Canadian stories, I will have to read literature.

In this first story, Charlie, a boy of eleven years, is sent to spend the summer of 1959 at his grandmother's farm.

Charlie's family is a bit of a mess.  One day his aunt Evelyn arrives with her slick and unlikable boyfriend.  What transpires is a battle of wills between the grandmother and the boyfriend.

I was rather surprised by how raw the story was.  I found myself completely immersed in it with five pages.

This is a rather good start to something new for me.

Guy Vanderhaeghe


Monday, September 11, 2017

Star Trek: The Kobayashi Maru by Julia Ecklar - Book Report #199

I loved this book.

It was one of those "stuck in an elevator" kind of stories, where the crew, Kirk, Bones, Scotty, Sulu and Chekov are in a shuttle craft, adrift in space, trying to get themselves rescued.

While they are waiting for Spock to find them they each tell their own story of how they coped with the Kobayashi Maru test.

This simulation is legendary in the worlds of Star Trek and I found the author played each story very well to the character's personality.

It read like a collection of short sorties making it a perfect book for my commute to and from work.

The best of the books expand our knowledge and understanding of the characters while delivering us a good adventure.

Julia Ecklar - http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?2538

Julia Ecklar

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Destination: Prince George by David Webb in British Columbia Magazine

I've decided that magazine articles should be included.  I am on a bit of a non-fiction kick these days and want to include periodicals.

Prince George is a city that I only have a fleeting knowledge of.  I usually pass the distance marker for it at the junction of highways Trans Canada 16 and BC 5, at Tête Jaune Cache, about 275 kms east of there.  That is the extent of my experience with the place.  It is, sadly, only a name on a highway street sign to me.

After reading the article I find myself intrigued.  Thinking it was only a mill town I had no interest in it all.  But now I see there is much, much more going on.  There is a fresh food and craft beer scene emerging along with well-established back country adventures opportunities.

I tried to find a link to the article but it is only available in the current print edition of British Columbia Magazine.  Get out in the world and find a copy of the physical copy.  The magazine is a beautiful read, from cover to cover, and is well worth the effort to find.

David Webb - http://theworldwidewebb.ca/

British Columbia magazine - https://bcmag.ca/

David Webb

Monday, September 4, 2017

Mission to Mars by Buzz Aldrin - Book Report #198

Buzz Aldrin, of Apollo 11, has been an advocate for continued and ambitious exploration of space ever since he returned to Earth.

Here he makes the case for Mars and describes a method to accomplish the permanent settlement of the planet.

I have always been a fan of space exploration.  My greatest disappointment was how it was put on the back burner and the American capability has atrophied to the point that they no longer have a domestic ability to put humans in orbit.

There are many mission plans to take humans to the red planet but this one has an elegant transportation system of continual cycling to and from Mars that I find compelling.

Part of the genius of the Aldrin cycler is how it puts hardware into space that offers free return trips back and forth between Earth and Mars in perpetuity.

Political will is necessary to make any push into space, the battle is to find that will and leverage it.

I found the book well written and inspiring.

Buzz Aldrin - https://buzzaldrin.com/

Buzz Aldrin
 


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Spirey and the Queen by Alastair Reynolds

I really don't know about this one.

Part of it was interesting in how war is fought in space but then there was this existential exploration of machines developing sentience.

I don't know it's as if Reynolds did not know what to do with this story and it tried to be two things at once.

Who knows.  Maybe it's brilliant.  Maybe I am not.

Alastair Reynolds website - http://www.alastairreynolds.com/


Alastair Reynolds

Monday, August 28, 2017

Lost Beneath The Ice by Andrew Cohen - Book Report #197

The thing I like about coffee table books is how they have the power to pique my interest in a subject.

The exploration of the Canadian north and the North West Passage has caused no end of calamity.  Most famous is the Franklin expedition and its disappearance.

In 1850 Captain Robert McClure of the HMS Investigator is sent to find Franklin.  He was unsuccessful in that task but discovered the elusive North West Passage in the process.

But it wasn't as easy as all that.  The ship and crew found themselves trapped in the ice and were forced to winter in Mercy Bay of Banks Island - for three years.

The book was published by Parks Canada and tells two stories; the historical tale of the dire trip of the Investigator and the modern search for the wreck of the ship.

I enjoyed this book very much -  it has expanded my knowledge of Canadian northern history and my desire to learn more.

Andrew Cohen - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Cohen_(journalist)

Andrew Cohen



Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Swanwatch by Yoon Ha Lee


This was a strange little piece that I really did not get.

People, who could be criminals or dissidents are sent to these ships, or maybe it's a space station, with the understanding that they will eventually kill themselves by flying a ship into a black hole.

But, while waiting for the ultimate day, they are free to pursue their passions, be it art or music or something else.

Honestly, I did not get this story as it blew right over me.

As always, I feel the weak link in the story was me.  For whatever reason I did not connect with it.  The writing was lovely but the characters did not jump off the page and into my brain here.

Yoon Ha Lee's website - http://www.yoonhalee.com/

Yoon Ha Lee

Monday, August 21, 2017

Infomocracy by Malka Older - Book Report #196

The future of politics and elections have evolved.

The people of Earth are no longer represented by elections within their own countries.  Countries as we know them today no longer exist, instead most of the world is divided into ridings of 100,000 people and an independent government is formed to represent them.

The whole planet has one election day to elect all these tiny districts.  It is a giant mess but it is supposed to be a purer way of working with democracy. 

All if this depends on a working and independent internet.  Tasked with keeping the election fair and legal is the corporation that succeeded Google, called Information.

But since this is a book about political elections shenanigans ensue.

The book was well written and I was thankful the author blended the exposition into the narrative of the story.

Sadly, it did not work for me simply because of the subject - politics.  The very thing that I love in fiction are stories about people being people; flawed and self-serving.  It is exactly that quality in humanity that depressed me in this book.

The new system of elections was created to eliminate corruption.  But guess what?  Somebody always finds a way to game the system.  It's one of these stories that made me feel like there is no hope for the future to be much better than today.

If you've ever wondered if there is a better way to govern this book will serve very well as a thought experiment.

I recommend the book even though it was not MY cup of tea.

Malka Older - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malka_Older

Malka Older



Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Warship by George R. R. Martin and George Guthridge

This was a quick six page story where, after a successful attack mission, the warship Alecto's crew succumb to an alien virus.

Lone survivor, First Dutyman Lewis Akklar, prepares for an act of self-sacrifice to protect the people of Earth.

There is also a nice twist ending here which gave the story some depth.

I liked it.

George R R Martin's website - http://www.georgerrmartin.com/

George Guthridge - http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?George_Guthridge

George R R Martin

George Guthridge

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Colour Of Canada by Roy MacGregor - Book Report #195

I don't usually review coffee table books.  Perhaps it's the size of them but they don't lend themselves to casual reading.  I made the effort with this one and I found that I was taken by MacGregor's quiet undercurrent of love of this country.

This was published to celebrate Canada sesquicentennial (such a fun word to say) the images within are as spectacular as the country.

Through MacGregor's prose I learned to see the red canoe in a completely different way.

Roy MacGregor

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Twilight of the Gods by John C. Wright

This was another cool story that played with an SF trope.

This time it is a multi-generational ark ship.

What if something happens to the ark en route to it's destination?  Here they are attacked and boarded.

Now think of this; the raid is not entirely successful and some of the inhabitants of the ark manage to escape and hide away for a generation.  It's an unbelievably large ship by the way.

Cut off from the technology of the ship, the events of the past fall into legend and the remaining people revert to a medieval society.

I loved how it read like a high fantasy story while being fully aware that the characters are in a ship in space.

It was a nice blending of the two genres.

John C Wright's websited - http://www.scifiwright.com/

John C. Wright


Monday, August 7, 2017

Bill Bryson's African Diary by Bill Bryson - Book Report #194

This is a lovely little 50-page book where all the proceeds go to support the Care charity.

CARE invited Bill Bryson to visit Kenya to see what life is like there and how the charity is working to help the people.

I was expecting that it would be dominated by the gloom of deep poverty and it was certainly described.  But then there is the effervescent personality of Bryson himself that can't help but see the quirks of humanity and the good that is all around.

I was happy that he wrote the book in the manner that has won him his dedicated audience.  It is a charming thing to follow a middle-aged and bewildered white guy into a wholly alien situation.

His intelligence, compassion and eye for the humanity of a given situation make this a book to search for and buy.

Recommended.

Bill Bryson's Wiki page - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Bryson

CARE website - http://care.ca/

Bill Bryson

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Different Day by K. Tempest Bradford

A three page story that broke with the SF trope of alien races being depicted as one culture occupying a whole planet.

What if?  And I love stories that ask this question.  What if an alien race makes first contact with us on Earth?  Who says it will be in the United States?

Then another race, from the same planet also arrives to make contact, but they are from a different country?

Race and political questions come to play in this very well thought out little tale.

I loved how it just blew apart the conventions of SF always being focused on the United States.

Nicely done.

K. Tempest Bradford's website - http://tempest.fluidartist.com/


K. Tempest Bradford

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson - Book Report #193

On the 20th anniversary of the publication of Notes From A Small Island, Bryson revisits the U.K. by following a path of his creation.

The Bryson Line describes the longest distance between two communities using a ruler.

What I love about Bill Bryson is that his books are less about the locations he visits and more about the people he meets and those that have been influential in the places he chooses to visit.

He is terrific at describing his interactions with the person behind the counter or a fellow tourist.  He also makes the effort to research who a building is named after or how a museum curated the treasures he has come to see.

It's a wonderful way of looking at the world because people are people no mater where they live or when.  Thorough it all there is his biting wit that I find inviting.

The book was lovely.

Bill Bryson

The Bryson Line


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Prisons by Kevin J. Anderson and Doug Beason

A prison planet revolts against it's keepers.

The success of the revolt hangs on the remoteness of the world and in keeping the prison's AI in control.  Guess how well that goes?

I enjoyed this story, it was well constructed and felt like it could easily be a movie.  I liked how the point of view changed from the AI to omniscient third person.

The twist worked for me and I found that I ripped through the story.

Well done.

Kevin J Anderson's website - http://www.wordfire.com/

Doug Beason's website - http://www.dougbeason.com/file/Welcome.html

Kevin J Anderson

Doug Beason


Monday, July 24, 2017

Just Cool It! by David Suzuki and Ian Hanington - Book Report #192

I had to slog through the first three chapters before I could enjoy what I was reading.

Suzuki has a long, rich history of making you feel shitty for being human and alive.  In this book he has taken a new direction; instead of beating you over the head explaining how thoroughly we've messed up the planet he now gives suggestions as to how to fix the problem.

Climate change is a big, messy problem but, interestingly, the solutions all exist, it's just a matter of will to fix things.

One observation really stuck out for me.  No matter where you fall in the climate change debate you can't argue with this:  even if we go all-in on expanding renewable energy and find that we were wrong about climate change we would find ourselves with a new alternative energy source AND fossil fuels.  We would have employed countless people, created new technologies, modernized our electrical systems and increased available power.  

There is no down side to this.

Suzuki and his co-author Ian Hanington, tackle solutions that can be applied to four general segments of human existence: Personal, Agricultural, Technological and Institutional.

It's that last category that is preventing us from really digging in and implementing solutions.  There needs to be political will to nurture and direct a new way of living on the planet.

I found the book to be well thought out, easy to read and understand.  It gave me ideas about changes I can make myself and opened my eyes to the infrastructure around me.

If you care about the environment or are simply interested in getting a better understanding about climate change this is a great place to start.

Recommended.

The David Suzuki Foundation website - http://www.davidsuzuki.org/

David Suzuki

Ian Hanington



Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Someone Is Stealing The Great Throne Rooms Of The Galaxy by Harry Turtledove

This story was as cute as the hamster protagonist of it.

That's right - I said hamster.

It was delightful, irreverent and fun. 

The space cadet hamster is tasked to investigate the thefts. 

Lots of puns and playing with the tropes of the omniscient narrator. 

A joy.

Harry Turtledove's website - https://www.sfsite.com/~silverag/turtledove.html

Harry Turtledove


Monday, July 17, 2017

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers - Book Report #191

Oh my goodness - what a delight!

I've been reading for decades and there are only an handful of books that I can say I was sorry to come to the end of.  This was one of them.

It ticked most of the boxes that I am looking for in SF.  I love a lived-in universe and stories about people just trying to make a living I find particularly compelling.

The Wayfarer is a tunnelling ship that builds shortcuts in space/time.  This sounds very sci-fi, but in this book, it's just a way of life, a job and it is not that glamorous.  To paraphrase something from the story, "History remembers who fought the wars and signed the treaties but nobody remembers who built the roads."

I would have been content just to read about how hard it was to construct these tunnels, or to live on the ship and to keep it maintained.  But the author gave so much more.  Reading about the varied crew members and where they came from was equally fascinating.

There was a terrific amount of world building here but none of it felt forced or ever got boring.

Chambers has created a massive world, well, a galaxy actually that I look forward to visiting again and again.

Highly recommended.

Becky Chambers - https://www.otherscribbles.com/

Becky Chambers