April 27 2011

The Last Colony

The Last Colony by John Scalzi is the third entry into his Old Man’s War series. There are two more books so far (The Sagan Diary and Zoe’s Tale) so I’ll term it a series. I enjoyed this entry also and enjoyed all three books quite a lot. I think that Scalzi did a good job in what he set out to do–write a fun and entertaining series of semi-hard SF.
This book picks up with John Perry again. He is now retired from the CDF and living on a colony world with wife Jane and adopted daughter Zoe. Their bucolic bliss is soon interrupted as a CDF general visits and asks them if they would be willing to be the colony leaders of a newly forming colony. The Perry’s decide to take up the offer fairly quickly. There are a couple of problems though. First, the colony is being colonized with people from 10 different colony worlds rather than directly from Earth. This makes for logistical and political problems different than the usual colony formation.
The next big problem arrives when they skip to their destination planet. More on that after the cut (some spoilers):

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April 25 2011

Minicon 46 recap

Back from Minicon 46. I had a good time. I also discovered that an iPad does work just fine as a laptop replacement for a weekend like this. Sunday was also our anniversary and we went to Collete–a French restaurant in the Sofitel across from the convention hotel and thereupon ate too much.
On Friday I went to the panel The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be – 4:00PM, with panelists John Scalzi, Laura Krentz, Neil Rest, Greg Johnson and Magenta Griffith. This was a good discussion on how the present isn’t quite the future that has been envisioned in SF of the past (no flying cars–probably a good thing). This was the first time I had heard Scalzi in person. His con persona is pretty much what I expected from his blog persona–witty and energetic. Since he was GoH I didn’t get any chances to have any sort of in depth discussion with him, so the dark secret tides of his underlying angst remain undiscovered. 🙂
At 7:00 I went to the opening ceremonies where music GoH Chas Somdahl sang us a song a Scalzi was formally introduced.
At 9:30 I listened to Patrick Nielsen Haden and the Deaf-Tones (Teresa Nielsen Hayden and Elise Matthesen) do a variety of songs. They were quite good. Steven Brust dropped by to listen, but I didn’t get a chance to talk with him and tell him Tiassa was quite good. Teresa did mention at a later panel that Tiassa is on the extended NY Times bestseller list–well deserved.
At 10:00 I went to Successful Writing In the Digital Age with Aaron Vander Giessen(M), John Scalzi and Ctein. This was mostly a discussion on Scalzi’s and Ctein’s experiences with translating blogging into sales. The general consensus being that on line presence doesn’t necessarily translate into sales figures, but it doesn’t necessarily hurt either.
On Saturday at 11:30 AM, I went to Science Literacy Vs. Human Knowledge with Chas Somdahl, Kelly Strait, John Scalzi, Howard Davidson and Rob Callahan. The base idea of the panel was that as human knowledge expands, it becomes harder to keep up. The main focus of the panel was the general lack of scientific literacy.
Then, at 1:00 was Don’t Read What You’re An Expert In with Rachel Kronick (M), Marissa Lingen and Magenta Griffith. This was a fun discussion on the astounding number of errors that occur in just about every form of entertainment (books, TV, movies …) and that you tend to notice when you are an expert in the particular area that is being mangled. Computers being magic boxes always irritates me. For example the “infinite zoom” of image enhancement you see all too often in crime shows.
At 2:30 came my own panel–Malazan Book of the Fallen Recap with Beth Kinderman(M), Steven Halter and Greg Johnson. 2:30 turned out to be the most heavily booked panel hour of the con, including Scalzi’s reading. So, we ended up with the panelists and 1 audience member. We forged ahead and had a really good discussion on the books and writing of Erikson. It was a good time and probab;y a good break in for my first time. Hey, I discovered I liked it. As a panelist you get to talk a lot more as an audience member and if it’s a subject you’re good at that’s not a bad thing. I think I’ll give it a try again.
At 5:30 was the Scalzi interview with David E. Romm.
At 8:30, Scalzi gave a slideshow of his tour of the “Creation Museum.” There is a Creation Museum in Kentucky that shows how Dinosaurs and people all lived together from about 6000 years ago. Scalzi had made the unfortunate remark that you couldn’t pay him to go there. About $5000 IN DONATIONS and a few months later, Scalzi found himself and a friend on the tour. He took a lot of pictures. This was probably the most fun and semi-surreal hour of the con. It also tied in really well with the lack of scientific literacy discussed in the earlier panel.
At 10:00 I went to a reading of Atlanta Nights by Teresa Nielsen Hayden. Atlanta Nights was a book co-written by about 30 SF authors with the purpose of being incredibly bad. It was then submitted to PublishAmerica in order to expose some of their unfortunate claims as a vanity press. This was a nice discussion. Teressa read a chapter by Jim Macdonald and then gave various accounts of her own experiences with slush piles. Slush piles are worse than you imagine them to be.
On Sunday was Common Misconceptions About Publishing – 11:30AM with Michael Merriam (M), John Scalzi, Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Teresa Nielsen Hayden. This tied somewhat into Teresa’s panel from the night before, but also covered such things as “it’s really a good idea to include your return address on a submission.”
Finally on Sunday at 2:30 was Works of John Scalzi with John Scalzi, Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Teresa Nielsen Hayden.
Here’s a picture of Scalzi’s first Coke Zero after Lent.
John talked some more about how it came to write “Old Man’s War”–military SF seemed popular. He also gave an amusing account of writing an emotional story and having the Schwan’s man interrupt.
In between the panels, there was various wandering about, swimming and the watching of interesting people. Minicon 46 — a good time.

April 22 2011

Minicon 46

I’ll be heading off to Minicon 46 later on today. I’ve gone to most of these since 1989–I think that this will be my 20th.
This year I’m trying something new–I’m going to be on a panel for the first time:

Malazan Book of the Fallen Recap – 2:30 PM Saturday – Veranda 2
The tenth and final volume of Steven Erikson’s epic, Dark Fantasy was just released on March 1, 2011. The Malazan books are almost thirty years in the making, and more than a decade after the publication of the first in the series. These books take place in a world originally created with Ian Cameron Esslemont as the surroundings for D&D and GURPS roleplaying campaigns. What are some thoughts on this final installment, and on the series as a whole? What about the Ian Cameron Esslemont’s Novels of the Malazan Empire?
Panelists: Beth Kinderman(M), Steven Halter, Greg Johnson

I proposed the panel as it seemed like a panel idea I would want to attend.
John Scalzi is the Author Guest of Honor. His books are good and his blog Whatever is interesting. It should be a good convention. I’ll be posting a write up on it when I return.

April 20 2011

The Ghost Brigades

The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi is the sequel to Old Man’s War. Scalzi turns in another fine volume in this one. I enjoyed it quite a lot–at least as much as the first book. For this review, I’ll assume you have read Old Man’s War and so will give out details of that book that I didn’t mention in my first review. If you haven’t read Old Man’s War then go do it before reading farther here.
In this book, we look into the Ghost Brigades (GB)(unsurprisingly) that we saw a little bit of in the latter part of Old Man’s War. We open with a meteor striking a planet near a research station. Various things occur and we meet the researcher Cainen. Various other events happen and Cainen is taken prisoner by Jane Sagan. Jane is the special forces officer (called the Ghost Brigades) that we met in Old Man’s War. The special forces, of the Colonial Defense Forces, members are formed from the genetically modified DNA of people who had volunteered for the CDF but then died before actually joining. Instead of then having an existing consciousness transferred to them, the GB member is awoken and then fed information via their embedded computer (BrainPal.) This results in combat ready troops within a couple of months. Jane’s DNA base, in particular, is derived from the dead wife of John Perry. We found that out last book.
After being captured by Jane, Cainen reveals that there is a plot by three alien races to attack the Colonial Federation. This attack has been spurred with information from the scientist Charles Boutin.
Boutin had vanished from his lab some time before, but been presumed dead as he had left a cloned body behind that had apparently committed suicide. He had also left behind an imprint of his own consciousness. It had been heretofore unknown that such a thing could be done. It had also been thought that in order to transfer a consciousness required two living brains. But, a plan is hatched to create a special forces body from the DNA of the clone of Boutin and use that to implant the consciousness within. The body could then be questioned and the alien invasion forestalled. That, at least is the plan.
A few interesting ethical questions arise during the course of the book and we also begin to get some insight that there are indeed things going on in the background of why the CDF exists and why all these aliens are fighting (or not.) We get some insight, but there are plenty of questions left for the two more books in the series (so far at least). And, I intend to proceed ahead as Scalzi does a fine job of keeping the entertainment at a high level.

April 15 2011

Old Man’s War

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi is a good, fun read. It’s nicely in the category of hard SF in that it explores some classic SF concepts. We’ve got interstellar travel with a ‘skip’ drive, genetic enhancement, embedded computers and hostile aliens.
It is set about 200 years into the future. There have been some wars and mankind has spread out among the stars. A couple of interesting things seem to have happened. Earth is still there and doing well, but the nations of Earth seem not to be in charge of space at all. The colonies have taken over and limit access to space to two forms. If you are from an undeveloped nation with a burgeoning population, you can elect to be a colonist. This means a free ticket to some planet where you get to do ‘colonial’ activities. We don’t learn too much else about this branch of the space selection because the main storyline follows branch 2.
The second method of getting off Earth is open to members of more developed nations. Specifically, it is open to you upon your 75th birthday. You get to sign up to serve as a soldier for the Colonial Defense Forces (CDF). In some unspecified way, it is presumed (strongly implied) that you will also undergo rejuvenation of some sort so that you will be capable of being a soldier. When you join there is this paragraph:

I understand that by volunteering for the Colonial Defense Forces, I consent to whatsoever medical, surgical or therapeutic regimens or procedures are deemed necessary by the Colonial Defense Forces to enhance combat readiness.

The reason that soldiers are needed is that a number of alien species have been encountered and it seems that they are quite interested in the same general planets as humans. In general, they are also interested in killing (and sometimes eating) those humans to get at those other planets. Why the hostile aliens don’t show up until after we have found interstellar travel isn’t specified (there are three sequels, so maybe more info will be forthcoming).
The main character is one John Perry. We meet him as:

I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife’s grave. Then I joined the army.

That’s the first sentence, by the way, and it’s a pretty good first sentence as these things go. He and his wife had signed up for the CDF ten years prior to the opening of the book. A few years later, she had died of a stroke. John has nothing in particular keeping him on Earth and he isn’t particularly liking getting old, so it’s off to the stars for him
During the rest of the book, we follow John as he gets the “procedures deemed necessary”, undergoes training and then serves in the CDF. There’s some good action, but the book isn’t just about action and killing aliens. There is also a good amount of discussion between recruits as to what is going on–they do start out at 75 and so aren’t just fresh-eyed recruits.
I enjoyed this book. I’ve already started the sequel–The Ghost Brigades. There are a few places that are a bit info dumpish, but the info is interesting and in general, the writing was quite well done.

April 11 2011

Napier’s Bones

Napier’s Bones by Derryl Murphy is the third book I’ve read based upon the Big Idea concept from Scalzi’s Whatever blog. The concept of an ecology of numbers sounded interesting to me and so, here we are…
We start in the midst of things. Dom (the main character) is walking through the Utah desert in search of something.
With this sentence (a lovely sentence by the way):

There was a rustling sound from overhead, and he looked up to see a series of logarithms flapping by like wiry bats.

We have it firmly established that something interesting is going on with Dom. Dom is then fairly quickly rendered unconscious as:

A grey mass, pulsing with unclear integers, fuzzy and indistinct against the now-screaming numbers in the sky above, launched itself over the edge of the ridge, dropped through the air and pierced his body.

When Dom awakens, he finds himself in a town and that he is no longer alone in his own body.
What is going on, is that Dom is a ‘numerate.’ This means that he is able to sense and manipulate numbers. Since numbers are really at the basis of everything, this means that Dom is able, to some extent, manipulate the world around him through this ability.
We learn that numerates are somewhat rare in the world and that Dom is stronger than average. We also learn that whoever caused Dom’s unconsciousness seems to be perturbed and wants to track Dom down and probably stomp him into the ground. Dom’s ‘passenger’ in his body is an adjunct personality named Billy. Billy doesn’t remember much about his own life, but knows that he is the (somewhat incomplete) manifestation of a recorded essence of a past numerate. The numerate records his personality into some object that can later manifest as the whole personality. In traditional fantasy, Billy would be a ghost. In traditional SF, Billy would be a personality record left in a computer.
That is one interesting aspect of the book–it walks a line between being outright fantasy and outright SF. Depending on how you want to interpret various events, you could go either way. The relationship of Dom and the world to numbers forms the background of the book, but you certainly don’t have to have a deep understanding of math in order to read the book. There are a few amusements along the way if you know a bit about the history of math.
The chasing of Dom and co. forms the main conflict of the book. The writing style is a little choppy at first, but seems to gradually smooth out as you are drawn towards the end. I almost wonder if this wasn’t intentional on Murphy’s part. As events in the novel escalate, so does the writing style.
I enjoyed this book. I especially liked the ending and resolution method. I won’t mention anything else about the resolution as that would give a bit too much away. Overall, it was a fun, fast paced read.

April 3 2011


Tiassa by Steven Brust is the latest addition to the Vlad cycle. It was amazing and I loved it.
It is the thirteenth volume in Vlad’s adventures and the 19th (depending on how you count) set in the Dragaeran universe. There are three parts to this book (with interludes). Each part is narrated in a different voice and from a different point of view. The prologue and interlude sections have their own points of view and some really interesting information that I won’t mention here, except to say that they are very much more than just prologues and interludes.
The first section (entitled Tag) is narrated by Vlad in Vlad’s typical voice. It is set before his marriage to Cawti, but during his engagement. In it, Vlad encounters some familiar characters and becomes involved in a complex plot for complex reasons on a certain object–a silver Tiassa. In other words, classic Vlad.
The second section is told in the third person. It again concerns a complex plot and the silver Tiassa. The chief actors in this section are not Vlad, but Cawti and Daro–the Countess of Whitecrest (yes, that one.) It takes place a few years after the first section, while Vlad is on the run.
The third section is written by Paarfi and is again a few years after the second section. It is chiefly from Khaavren’s point of view. Again, the silver Tiassa appears.
The three main sections and the interludes serve to weave together a marvelous tale. Not only do they complement each other, but they add depth to the series and characters as a whole. The Vlad tales and the Khaavren tales are finally firmly drawn together.
This is a remarkable addition to a remarkable tale. The story is compact and wonderfully written.
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