Monday, May 20, 2019

Curing Affluenza by Richard Denniss - Book Review #265

Like Enough is Enough this book takes a look at our current capitalist system and suggests changes to allow humanity to live in harmony with the Earth's ecosystem.

In both books, it is stressed that it is the ecosystem that has allowed us to create our current economic system.  One of the ideas that really gave me pause was money; it was invented by humans and has no relationship to the environment, it only has value because we've all agreed to it.  If we continue to destroy resources in pursuit of money there will be consequences.  But we already know that.

Curing Affluenza takes a closer look at needed changes to our current capitalist system and points to the benefit of the service industries, how government services are not as bad as the press and private industry claim and how the pursuit of more stuff is part of the problem.

Dennis claims that we must change how we identify ourselves from "consumers" to "citizens" that are part of a larger whole.

Changes are needed and coming but it doesn't mean it's the end of the world.  It has happened many times before, think of how society radically changed after WWII.  The only lingering worry is whether we've done too much damage to our planet already.

I highly recommend this book.

Richard Denniss
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Monday, May 13, 2019

Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells - Book Review #264

Third in the Murderbot series.

Honestly, I found this book incredibly dull. I had put it down for over a week then, after picking it up again, nearly gave up on it.

All the charm of the previous book was gone and I was left with too many fighting action scenes which felt like they were only there to increase the word count.

I even forgot what the Murderbot was doing.  When the plot finally showed itself again it was in the dénouement and I was thankful for it.

Martha Wells

Monday, May 6, 2019

Enough is Enough by Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill - Book Review #263

Doesn't it seem like the world is broken?  Climate Change and the growing gap between the rich and the poor are symptoms of capitalism reaching its limit.

There are some fundamental shortcomings in the GDP formula and the pursuit of profit above all else.

In this book, Dietz & O'Neill take a 10,000 ft look at our economic systems and offer adjustments that could make powerful changes in the way we work, measure prosperity and co-exist with the environment.

Some of their ideas seemed nearly impossible to contemplate to me.  But it is a powerful read that made me see the world in a differently.

The book pointed me to two very interesting organizations that trying to find a way for people and the environment to exist in harmony.

Take a look at the Post Carbon Institue and the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

Rob Dietz is also a host of the Crazy Town podcast.

I recommend the book if you are convinced that the problems of the world stem from how our economies work.

Rob Dietz

Dan O'Neill

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Reading Break Over

In the month of April, I took a break from reading books and blogging.

I still read like crazy but I concentrated on long-form journalism which was rewarding in its own way but I found my reading became more frenzied as I chased links to articles and found myself skimming more than reading.

I suffer from the fear of missing out on things, which is why I have so many unread books in my house.  The internet only aggravated this in me.  So I am back to reading books and will return to a steady pace of posting to this blog.

I try to post book reviews on Mondays, Graphic Novels on Saturdays and short stories on the other days.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Artificial Condition by Martha Wells - Book Review #262

This is the second book in the Murderbot series and it was a lot of fun.

Our “free,” rogue Murderbot goes back to where it all went wrong.

In this book we explore his ability to move about in free society, keeping to the shadows, and to learn how he came to hack his own governor module and how he became involved in the massacre that has haunted him throughout the last book.

I keep imagining Peter Weller in Robocop.  Our guy is messed up, self-aware, childlike and dangerous as hell.

To investigate his past, he boards a cargo/research ship that is about to depart without a crew.  AI’s are so advanced that, when the ship is not being used by its human crew, it goes off on routine cargo runs to generate revenue.  The AI of this ship is well tuned to interacting with humans and it allows Murderbot aboard so it could have somebody to talk to.

Their interactions are what makes this book work for me.

Lots of fun here.

Martha Wells' website - https://www.marthawells.com/

Martha Wells

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The AI Cold War That Threatens Us All by Nicholas Thompson and Ian Bremmer - Wired Magazine article

In the November 2018 issue of Wired magazine, Nicolas Thompson and Ian Bremmer made a compelling case that we could be headed to a new kind of Cold War.

The future of relations between China and the United States revolves around AI, 5G networks, surveillance and intellectual property rights.

I found the whole article chilling and well thought out.  It extrapolates the near future based on today’s headlines and they even offer an alternative to the direction we seem to be on.

That alternative seems, to me at least, a bit optimistic but it is the best possible outcome.

Take the time to dig out the article.  It satisfied the futurist in me.

The article can be found here - https://www.wired.com/story/ai-cold-war-china-could-doom-us-all/

Monday, March 18, 2019

Identity Theft and other stories by Robert J Sawyer - Book Report #261

I enjoyed this book very much.  Not every story worked for me but that's okay.

The real joy of this anthology was the opportunity to read stories that would be very difficult to find today given the publication history.

Below is a list of links of the stories I reviewed from this book.

Enjoy!

I highly recommend the book, it was one of my reading highlights of 2018.

~~~

Identity Theft - https://eric-the-mailman.blogspot.com/2018/10/identity-theft-by-robert-j-sawyer.html

Come All Ye Faithful - https://eric-the-mailman.blogspot.com/2018/10/come-all-ye-faithful-by-robert-j-sawyer.html

Immortality - https://eric-the-mailman.blogspot.com/2018/10/immortality-by-robert-j-sawer.html

Shed Skin - https://eric-the-mailman.blogspot.com/2018/10/shed-skin-by-robert-j-sawer.html

The Stanley Cup Caper - https://eric-the-mailman.blogspot.com/2018/10/the-stanley-cup-caper-by-robert-j-sawyer.html

On The Surface - https://eric-the-mailman.blogspot.com/2018/10/on-surface-by-robert-j-sawyer.html

The Eagle Has Landed - https://eric-the-mailman.blogspot.com/2018/11/the-eagle-has-landed-by-robert-j-sawyer.html

Mikeys - https://eric-the-mailman.blogspot.com/2018/11/mikeys-by-robert-j-sawer.html

The Good Doctor - I didn't review this flash fiction, well, because I just didn't get it.  I read it twice and tried to get the joke but it escaped me completely.

Ineluctable - https://eric-the-mailman.blogspot.com/2018/11/ineluctable-by-robert-j-sawyer.html

The Right's Tough - https://eric-the-mailman.blogspot.com/2018/11/the-rights-tough-by-robert-j-sawyer.html

Kata Bindu - https://eric-the-mailman.blogspot.com/2018/11/kata-bindu-by-robert-j-sawyer.html

Driving a Bargain - https://eric-the-mailman.blogspot.com/2018/11/driving-bargain-by-robert-j-sawyer.html

Flashes - https://eric-the-mailman.blogspot.com/2018/11/flashes-by-robert-j-sawyer.html

Relativity - https://eric-the-mailman.blogspot.com/2018/11/relativity-by-robert-j-sawyer.html

Biding Time - https://eric-the-mailman.blogspot.com/2018/11/biding-time-by-robert-j-sawyer.html

Postscript: E-Mails from the Future - https://eric-the-mailman.blogspot.com/2018/11/biding-time-by-robert-j-sawyer.html



Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Code that Crashed the World by Andy Greenberg - An Article Review

First published in Wired magazine’s September 2018 issue, Andy Greenberg shares an excerpt from his book Sandworm, to expose the damage caused by the Russian cyber attack of June 27, 2017.

The author focused on the damage caused to, and effort to recover from, the hack on the Maersk shipping company.

The whole thing read like an action movie and went to expose just how vulnerable the world’s networked computers are.  I found this to be a fantastic read.  It was also very, very scary.  This is not fiction, this happened and can easily happen again.

On the positive side, you can bet that these vulnerabilities are being addressed.  But it all came about because of apathy - since nothing has happened in the past there was no reason to prepare for the future.  Something we are all guilty of, really.

Whey was the last time you changed your passwords?

Link to the Wired article - https://www.wired.com/story/notpetya-cyberattack-ukraine-russia-code-crashed-the-world/

Andy Greenberg's Wired bio - https://www.wired.com/author/andy-greenberg/

Andy Greenberg



Monday, March 11, 2019

After the Sands by Gordon Laxer - Book Report #260

This is a timely book to consider an Alberta economy beyond oil.

I know, saying things like that are blasphemy in a province so dedicated to an extraction economy.  But, one of the things the author promotes is Canadian energy independence by stopping the export of our resources.  This would mean constructing the Energy East pipeline, something Quebec blocked, instead of expanding the Keystone XL line.

East of Ottawa oil products are imported from the Middle East.  This makes for a vulnerable situation if some kind of interruption in supply should happen.

All countries will ultimately protect their own citizens first, but Canada is unprepared to do so.  It would be better to set the stage now instead of waiting for a crisis to force our hand.

It is astonishing to learn how little proven reserves remain of Alberta’s natural gas.  I for one think of this when my furnace kicks in on a cold February morning.

This book is largely a big-picture, government-programs exploration on how to first, secure our current energy supply and then to transition off of carbon fuels to do our part in addressing climate change.

The last three chapters dig into a possible path for Canada.  It points to many other books and groups who are doing a lot of thinking on the subject.  Nothing will change overnight but it is important to explore the ways available to us.

Change is coming.  Will it be a disaster or a new era for humanity?

It’s scary and exciting to contemplate.

Highly recommended.

Gordon Laxer's website - https://www.gordonlaxer.com/

Gordon Laxer


Friday, March 8, 2019

Black Powder by Maria Dahvana Headley

It was a strange and interesting story that had the mood of something that Stephen King and Quentin Tarantino could have co-written.

It had s foreboding heaviness of ancient curses, threatening wildlife, abandoned places and unstoppable violence.  I loved the style of the narration and the character of The Hunter.

Sadly, the story fell apart somewhere and I found myself wishing the story would just end.  I felt it suffered from too many world-building elements.

It was that world-building that grabbed me at the start.


This needs to be a novel with room to breath.

Maria Dahvana Headley's website - https://www.mariadahvanaheadley.com/

Maria Dahvana Headley

Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance by Tobias S Buckell


Gotta love that title.

I had a bit of trouble understanding the world Buckell created but, once I did, it was wholly original and terrific.

It's a morality tale that involves uploaded consciousness, near-immortality and the idea of the singularity that went way past anything I have imagined so far.

That said, it was a pure story of humanity, morality, justice and greed.

It was strange.

It was familiar.

I loved it.



Tobias S Buckell's website - https://tobiasbuckell.com/

Tobias S Buckell


Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Cannibal Acts by Maureen McHugh

If you can get past the first scene you’ll be okay.

It’s the end of the world and humanity is dying out.

In a secluded town on the Alaskan coast, a small group of people are trying to survive while “at war” with a neighbouring group of survivors.

The scariest part of the author’s story is the realization that society is a very fragile thing.  We can only be “American,” “Japanese” or whatever if all of our systems function properly if we can be kept healthy and fed.

This was a chilling story mostly because the apocalypse is only a year or two in the past. What is normal for us is gone so quickly.

I think this story might keep me up tonight.

Well told.



Maureen McHugh

Monday, March 4, 2019

Dark Run by Mike Brooks - Book Review #259

Finally!

This is my kind of SF.  I grew up watching Star Trek and Star Wars but it was the smuggler's life of Han Solo, Chewbacca and the Millennium Falcon that caught my imagination.  I find the gritty life of trying to make a buck in a far-flung future captivating.

Firefly is another good example of this.  This type of SF, without alien encounters or super-powers, is often described as a Space Western.  I guess that's an apt description because it's just people with their own human motivations - on spaceships.

Anyway, this book felt like a love letter to Firefly and I was desperate to dive into this new take on that kind of structure.  It was all that and a bit more.  Brooks' writing is confident and he was unafraid to make time-skips to move the plot along.  The dialogue was crisp and punched through with humour.

I love that he handled exposition through the narrative.  He only revealed background when it was needed and through dialogue; the reader learned things at the same time as members of the crew did.  This is how character growth is handled in TV and movies because the medium does not lend itself well to exposition.  Adopting this kind of narrative makes this book move quickly.

I felt instantly at home in this book and I am thrilled to know there are at least two more in this world.

The plot?  The rag-tag crew of the Keiko accept a smuggling, no-questions-asked, job to deliver a package to Earth.  Things don't go as planned.  That's enough to get you going.  Trust me, you'll have fun.

Highly recommended.

Mike Brooks' website - http://www.mikebrooks.co.uk/

Mike Brooks

Friday, March 1, 2019

The Orange Tree by Maria Dahvana Headley

I found this to be an interesting way to start a dark February morning.

A broken, sick and troubled poet commissions a carpenter to create for him a golem.  He hopes it will cure him of his crushing loneliness.

But he is not as alone as he imagines.  The influence of others is all around him, even in his creation.

This story was beautiful and disturbing.  There was the feeling of powers held in check by will or simple chance that gave it a foreboding atmosphere.  And yet, it was beautiful and sad and spoke to the fleetingness of life.


It was a surprising story that will stay with me to be sure.

Maria Dahvana Headley's website - https://www.mariadahvanaheadley.com/

Maria Dahvana Headley

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Big Picture by Richard Heinberg - An Essay Review

The subject of this essay is not an easy one to take but it has been all over the news lately.

The polarization of our politics, the ever-increasing wage gap and the threat of global warming are all pointing to a possible collapse of our ways of life.

But what does that really mean?  Are we headed to a Mad Max existence or a post-capitalist utopia as Star Trek depicts?

I have seen many titles, I am currently reading one, that describe a “post” world order; post-oil, post-capitalism, post-consumerism, post-globalization and post-industrialization. Everything seems to be pointing to a new world order.

This can be quite terrifying for a lot of people.  Let’s face it, most people don’t like change.

The Post Carbon Institute is where I found this essay which does not sugar-coat the possibility of a Mad Max future but it equally depicts the path toward a better, more sustainable alternative.

This is a big topic.  This little essay is a great way to start thinking about the changes that are coming and the choices we will have.

Highly recommended.

You can find the essay here - https://www.postcarbon.org/the-big-picture/

Richard Heinberg's website - http://richardheinberg.com/

Richard Heinberg

Monday, February 25, 2019

Star Trek: Into Darkness by Alan Dean Foster - Book Review #258

This was my first experience with a movie novelization and I must say that Foster did a terrific job of it.  As a matter of fact, he made tolerable, even enjoyable the never-ending fight scene from the movie between Spock and Khan.

Foster had a terrific way with the narrative that touches on the old pulps without crossing into purple prose.  I could feel that I was in the hands of a confident writer.

All in all, this was a terrific way to experience the movie in another form.  I liked it very much.

I found the narration of the book by Alice Eve to be refreshing and I thought her take on the characters was spot-on.  I could listen to her voice all day.


Recommended.

Alan Dean Foster's website - http://www.alandeanfoster.com/version2.0/frameset.htm



Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Life Among the Post-Industrial Barbarians by John Coffren

Man, I really don’t like time travel stories, and I especially find the Star Trek ones tedious.

I know they are supposed to be fun, with the Department of Temporal Investigations and all, but it just gets to be so loopy that an author can make up whatever crap he or she desires and it just doesn't have to make sense.

Kind of like this one.

Monday, February 18, 2019

The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown - Book Report #257

I was happy to return to the warm world of The Wild Robot.

At the end of the last book, Roz was taken away to the factory where she was built to be studied and hopefully repaired.

But things do not go well for Roz and she escapes to try to return to her far-away island and her animal friends.  Because she has learned the language of animals she makes an interesting journey with the help of the new friends she meets along the way.

I was swept up, once again, by Peter Brown’s delightful prose and by his lovely artwork.  This is what books were like when I grew up and I do miss the blending of art and story in my readings as an adult.

Sure it’s a kid’s book but it is very intelligent and never talks down to the reader.  I was impressed by the author’s ability to challenge without intimidating a young reader.

This is the kind of book that you’ll want to purchase in paper-form.  It must be held to be enjoyed - and it must be shared.

Highly recommended.

Peter Brown's website - http://www.peterbrownstudio.com/

Peter Brown

Monday, February 4, 2019

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson - Book Report #256

Steve Jobs was an amazing individual.  He was a colossal asshole.  A visionary.  And changed the world.

To say he was a complex individual is putting it mildly.  I am surprised people didn't just punch him in the nose at every opportunity.

More than anything Jobs wanted to “make a dent in the universe.”  He wrestled and fought to make his visions reality.

He was responsible for much of the following:

The Graphical User Interface.
The computer mouse.
The personal computer. He helped to bring computers into the home.
The iPod.
iTunes - which helped to tame illegal downloading.
Pixar Animation Studios
iPhone
iPad

Through all of this, he simply was not a pleasant person to be around. He tended to see the world as either fantastic or total shit.  He yelled a people a lot, he stole the credit for ideas and he alienated people.

But his story was completely fascinating.  It is amazing to think about how much he changed our modern-day lives.  Without his vision, we could still be using flip phones.

I am writing this post on an iPad which, interestingly, has an Apple Pencil attached. Jobs hated the stylus and now that I have one I can see he was right.  I hardly use the thing and it actually gets in my way.

The author did a terrific job of showing the real Steve Jobs.  He had permission and was unafraid to show his dark sides as well as his genius.

This is a big read but should tell you something about how much influence Jobs had.

Highly recommended.

Walter Isaacson's Wikipedia page - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Isaacson

Walter Isaacson

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Wretched and the Beautiful by E Lilly Yu

A timely story about refugees.

But these are not Syrians crossing borders, these are aliens crash landing on a beach and asking for protection from a ravaged homeworld.

It doesn’t take long before humans that are affected by the integration start to resent it and the ugly bigotry toward “the other” begins.

Yu has taken the highest traditions fo SF to reflect ourselves back to us.

The story is short and brings home the message effectively.


I was so happy to have read it.

E. Lilly Yu's website - http://elilyyu.com/

E Lilly Yu