Jun 302011

CryoBurn by Lois McMaster Bujold is also nominated for the 2011 Hugo award for best novel. CryoBurn is (for the most part) another fun Miles romp.
Miles has been sent to the planet Kibou-daini in his role as Imperial Auditor to investigate a cryo company that wishes to expand to Escobar. When we first meet Miles in the book, he is stumbling through some dark tunnels and hallucinating as a result of a botched kidnap attempt on said planet.
Miles happens into some friendly people and uncovers multiple layers that are very relevant to his auditing mission. Miles, being Miles, pursues all of this with great gusto and verve.
If you have been reading along in the Vor series, then you will like this one too. Until the final pages, this book is more or less just a fun addition to the series without advancing things very much. The final chapter makes up for that in a big way and I expect the next book will hold some more changes for Miles & co. (No, I’m not going to say what happened.)
I’ve been a Miles fan for a long time, so it pretty much goes without saying that I enjoyed this one.

 Posted by at 3:56 pm
Jun 292011

Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson is the third book in Erikson’s “Malazan Book of the Fallen” series. It brings us back to the main storyline and characters of Gardens of the Moon. Almost immediately upon rejoining the storyline, the story begins to expand. We learn more about the Crippled God and his plans. That is a tale that will take us through the remainder of the series (7 more books from Erikson alone.) We also begin to learn about the immediate threat in the novel–the Pannion Seer.
With this book, Erikson continues to show the mastery of storytelling that we saw in Gardens and Deadhouse Gates. He intersperses major scenes of battle with finely drawn scenes of personal loss and triumph. He really knows how to tug on the emotions of the reader, going from triumph to tragedy and back.
We get a fair amount of detail filled in with this volume, but at the same time we get a sense of things to come and things only partially glimpsed.
For big scenes, there is the siege of Capustan and the arrival of Moon’s Spawn. But, there are also a myriad of finely drawn, tight focus scenes on characters. There are Toc and Tool, Whiskeyjack and Korlat, and the various Bridgeburners.
We also get references both back to the first two books and forward to all of the books in the series. Once you have finished the series, it is amazing to go back and encounter references that you won’t see again for multiple volumes. For instance, we hear about Drift Avalii and the new “Emperor of the Edur”. Extremely intricately crafted. It really is a “dance of mysteries.”
All of this is to say, I really enjoyed this book.

 Posted by at 10:36 am
Jun 242011

Normally, after a Minnesota winter, warmth is one of the key things we seek in a vacation. This year we decided to mix things up and take a cruise to Alaska. We picked the Norwegian Pearl as our vessel of choice and decided to spend a day in Seattle on either end.
The trip schedule looked like:

We had a very enjoyable trip. The ship itself was quite nice. The size of these cruise ships is something you really can’t quite picture until you are next to one. Quite literally hotel/skyscrapers afloat. We had a balcony cabin. This was quite nice for looking at scenery without having to be out on deck. Very nice if crowds aren’t your biggest delight.
The scenery was fantastic. In Juneau, we saw our first glacier, the Mendenhall glacier:

and went for a tour of a temperate rain forest (good place for wood elves):

In Skagway we took the White Pass Railway up into the mountains. This was originally built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush.

All of the snowy mountains made me think of the Lord of the Rings when they tried to take the pass by Caradhras. Not surprising they didn’t make it. Of course, the miners didn’t have a wizard and had to haul two tons of stuff each into the Yukon. Here’s a steampunk snow removal device they used:

In Glacier Bay, we saw a number of glaciers. My favorite was the Marjerie Glacier

For a sense of scale, that’s about a mile across and 250 feet from the water to the top of the ice.

 Posted by at 2:51 pm
Jun 222011

This article from researchers at USC shows they have figured out a method for blocking or enhancing long term memory in rats, at least.
They were able to:

Using a model created by the prosthetics research team led by Berger, the teams then went further and developed an artificial hippocampal system that could duplicate the pattern of interaction between CA3-CA1 [hippocampal] interactions.

Long-term memory capability returned to the pharmacologically blocked rats when the team activated the electronic device programmed to duplicate the memory-encoding function.

This seems like a fairly major step forward to me.

 Posted by at 1:39 pm
Jun 222011

The Dervish House by Ian McDonald was a truly interesting read. It is set in Istanbul in the near future and constitutes the events that happen over seven days to the inhabitants of an old Dervish House (or Tekke) in Istanbul that has been split into apartments and shops. The various story thread are (at first) linked only by their confluence within the Dervish house but gradually become linked together by external factors. Two threads were particularly interesting to me. Ayşe Erkoç owns an antiquities shop in the Dervish house and is approached by a somewhat suspicious character to find a “mellified man.” This quest thread gives us a nice historical mystery thread and explores pieces of Istanbul.
The second thread is the quest of Can Durukan to uncover the mystery of a nearby tram explosion. Can is a nine year old boy with a heart condition such that he can not be exposed to loud noises. Thus, he is mostly confined to his apartment rooms and explores the world through his bitbot robot. The bitbot is a programmable swarm of modular nanobots that can take on the shapes of a rat, bird, or snake. Everyone thinks of it as Can’s toy, although it seems incredibly useful to me and I’d like one now, please.
Through Can’s thread, we gradually work our way into a terrorist plot and also link with Georgios Ferentinou, a retired (somewhat forcibly) economics professor who is a member of the Greek minority within Istanbul. Through Georgios we also see some of the unfortunate treatment of minorities within Turkey. The terrorist thread also links us to Necdet Hasgüler. Necdet lives in the Dervish house with his brother Ismet and was witness to the explosion on the tram. Soon after the explosion, he begins having visions of Jinn.
Through these threads, we get a look at a future Istanbul and Turkey. Turkey has recently entered the EU and nanotechnology and natural gas promise both future riches and troubles. I enjoyed the way McDonald wove the various threads together into a very interesting whole. All in all, a very good contender for the Hugo.
I was also very interested in the workings and culture of Istanbul. I’ve read quite a bit on the Byzantine empire, but not much on the goings on past the Ottoman sacking of Constantinople. So, it was interesting to see future/modern Istanbul.

 Posted by at 11:42 am
Jun 222011

Back from vacation. We went on a cruise to Alaska (pictures eventually when I get thing organized) and the scenery and such were amazing. As I mentioned previously, we only took an iPhone and iPad in lieu of a laptop and books.
The book portion of the experiment went fine. I expected this to work well as we’ve already been doing a lot of reading with these devices. This probably gave us about 8 free pounds for our luggage, so good showing for e-Reading.
The laptop replacement worked fine also. For checking email and small amounts of writing, the iPad works quite well. The one problem we did have (and would also have had with a laptop) was that the ship internet was both slower and more expensive than I would have thought by this time. So, while we were at sea, I only checked email occasionally. Interestingly, once we were in port, the AT&T 3G connection worked great in all of the cities we visited so the iPhone actually worked better than a laptop in those places for connectivity.

 Posted by at 8:56 am
Jun 082011

So, on Saturday we’ll be going on vacation. Usually this means packing sufficient books to last the trip and lugging along a laptop. This year, we’re going to untether from both. We’ll just be taking an iPhone and an iPad to serve as book readers and laptop replacements. This lightens our load by a number of pounds and actually drastically increases the number of books available.

 Posted by at 3:11 pm
Jun 012011

The Sultan of the Clouds by Geoffrey A. Landis is the final 2011 Hugo nominee for Best Novella. (It’s the final because it’s the last one I read.) Landis gives us a very interesting glimpse into a possible future solar system. The solar system is largely controlled by 20 families. These were essentially the people who funded/continued space exploration after Earth governments had largely given up.
The narrator (Tinkerman) and Dr. Leah Hamakawa (a planetary ecosphere scientist) travel to Venus at the request of Carlos Fernando Delacroix Ortega de la Jolla y Nordwald-Gruenbaum–the titular “Sultan of the Clouds.” They meet Carlos and discover that in addition to controlling most of Venus, Carlos is twelve and wants to marry Dr. Hamakawa. Marriage of a younger person to an older person turns out to be a standard Venusian practice. When the younger person reaches an age of around thirty they then marry another younger person in turn. They term this continuous marriage a “braided” marriage. For political reasons, Carlos is seeking Dr. Hamakawa as an outside (of Venus) person so that he will be unencumbered by the strictures of the established line marriages. In other words, he has a plot.
Landis presents a very interesting method in which Venus has been colonized. The surface of Venus itself is quite inhospitable to humans in just about every way you can think of. If you travel upwards in the atmosphere to where the pressure is Earth normal, you have an interesting possibility. The atmosphere is still largely CO2, so a balloon filled with ordinary Earth air is buoyant. This has led to formation of the cloud cities of Venus. The cloud cities are bubble habitats (large) that float among the atmosphere of Venus. There are about 10,000 of these cities and Carlos controls around half of them. We spend a fair amount of time looking at the cities and their culture through Tinkerman’s eyes. Tinkerman is fairly bright, but somewhat passive and somewhat shocked at Venusian cultural differences.
The idea of colonizing Venus in this fashion is an idea Landis (real scientist!) proposed back in 2008. The link takes you to a nice article on that.
This story presented some interesting ideas and had a nice little mystery (Carlos’ plot). I liked it, but it did seem to be a bit of a set piece for the floating cities. Now, since the floating city idea is pretty cool, I didn’t mind that too much.

 Posted by at 10:17 am