May 29 2012

Royal Street

Royal Street by Suzanne Johnson is a good, fast, fun read. It is the first book in a planned series and is Suzanne’s first novel. The setting of the story is New Orleans just before hurricane Katrina hit and for a few days after. We meet Drusilla Jaco–the junior sentinel for New Orleans. As we go though the book, we gradually learn that one of the jobs for wizards is to keep control of the borders between this world and the Beyond. The Beyond is where most creatures we think of as supernatural dwell. We first meet Dru as she is exchanging barbs (speaking and physical) with the manifestation of the pirate Jean Lafitte. She has been assigned to deal with him by her mentor and guardian, Gerry–the senior sentinel for New Orleans.
When the hurricane strikes, it weakens the barriers to the Beyond and Gerry vanishes. Dru is left with the task of trying to contain the incursions from the beyond and to locate her now missing mentor. Things start to heat up with a series of “voodoo murders”, troublesome incursions from the Beyond and a somewhat unwelcome partner she has been assigned by the Elders (wizards in charge).
I enjoyed the world, magic system and the character of Dru quite a bit. There are some tantalizing things to find out about Dru. Suzanne does an excellent job portraying post-Katrina New Orleans and the heartbreak for its residents. I was a bit ambivalent about some developing love interests, but that is probably more a reflection of my general taste than any particular problem. Overall, I was quite happy with the book and would recommend it to anyone who likes the Urban Fantasy sort of genre.

May 18 2012

Hugo Packet 2012

The Hugo Packet for the 2012 Hugo awards is out now. It contains “electronic copies of individually nominated works, and representative works from people and groups nominated for their 2011 body of work as a whole. To thank the authors and publishers who have generously provided these materials, we urge you to provide your financial support to them in bookstores, at art shows, and online.”
It is available to anyone who is a member of Chicon 7. Note that you can become a supporting member for just $50 and then you get to vote for the Hugo and Campbell awards and get this cool packet.
I’ll be reviewing a majority of the works found in the packet. Here is my list of the finalists with links to what I have reviewed so far. I’ll be updating that page as I go and I’ll post my selections at some point before the Tuesday, July 31, 2012 deadline. I’ve got some reading to do, although not as much as last year.

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May 14 2012


In Glasshouse , Charles Stross is playing with a number of ideas. Glasshouse is set in a future in which nano-tech “assemblers” allow the creation of anything for which you have the basic elements–including people. The wonderful and convincing portrayal of future technology and its implications is a strength through Stross’ books. This technology sets up another theme. If you can duplicate anything, including people, what does identity (and hence identity theft mean. There has in the recent past been a very nasty war in which one group effectively infected the assembler units with a virus that allowed for the cognitive control and censorship of the people within the groups control. Once you control a person and that person’s memories, you can establish a very effective and nasty dictatorship.
We meet the main character Robin. Robin has recently had elective memory surgery, presumably to forget some traumatic events. Robin is convalescing while his (he is basically human with some modifications) personality settles after the memory surgery. Robin discovers there seem to be some people trying to kill him and so he volunteers to enter an experiment. The experiment involves transferring to a reenactment of Earth in the twentieth century. This gives Stross the opportunity to do some very nice observations on the silliness of many customs that many people take for granted now. Clothes, marriage, jobs, … — these all seem odd or meaningless to Robin (who is now female) and this is a very nice use of the power of SF. SF allows us to look at our own world (and ourselves) as it might be perceived from the outside.
While in the experiment, Robin discovers that the experimenters may not be quite whom they had claimed they were. This sets up the driving plot focus for the book. I won’t go into that beyond saying that it provides a nice tightly paced setting for all of the other idea generation that is going on. Very well done.

May 9 2012

Roman Holiday – Part II

As we were wandering about Rome on Tuesday, I noted a few general things. As large cities go, Rome was quite clean. There was pretty much no garbage lying about (plenty of trash cans) and while buildings did have some darkening due to auto exhaust, it didn’t seem as bad as, say Chicago. There seemed to be far fewer “homeless” persons than in a typical American city of a comparable size. Since gas prices were at around $10/gallon (converting from liters and Euro) there were basically no large personal vehicles (SUVs). Also, while driving, it might seem like you are constantly about to either hit someone or be rammed, there was very little evidence of actual collisions. There weren’t any little pools of broken glass on the road or even very many dents in autos. An initial hypothesis is that Italian drivers may actually pay more attention since the rules seem to be more fluid.
Another very fine thing is gelato. There are lots of places that sell gelato as you wander about. This makes getting lost not too bad. How lost can you be if you can stop and have some delicious gelato. We found one place (whose name I can remember) just outside of the walls of the Vatican that was very good. Another, Valentino’s, was just down from the Trevi fountain–also very good. We found that places that made their own and specialized in gelato to be better than places that happened to also sell gelato.
On Tuesday, we decided to see the Colosseum and the Forum area. We took a taxi there and disembarked near the Colosseum. The line to get in was quite long there and we didn’t have a ticket, but we did have SECRET KNOWLEDGE! I will know reveal this. Instead of getting your ticket at the Colosseum, you can go about 100 yards down Via di San Gregorio past the Arch of Constantine where you will find the entrance to the Forum/Palatine hill area. The line here is much shorter and you can buy a combined Forum, Palatine Hill, Colosseum ticket there. Here is the Arch of Constantine:

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May 2 2012

Roman Holiday-Part I

Susan and I returned on the 26th of April from our 11 day excursion to Rome and I’ve gotten the photos in order enough to write up the trip. The short account is that we had a great time. The weather cooperated the whole time with temperatures in the 60’s and usually some sun–very nice for walking around and looking at things.
We arrived in Rome on the 16th and arrived at the hotel (Rose Garden Palace) around 11:30am. That’s 4:30am CST so we had been up about 22 hours by that time, but we’ve learned that powering through that first day is a good way to get your clock onto local time. After getting unpacked (the room was very nice with a walk in closet and nice speedy wi-fi) we walked a couple of blocks to the Villa Borghese gardens. We managed our first days goal of staying awake.
On the second day, we took a taxi over to the Vatican museum entrance. We had gotten tickets online and were quite glad as the line for the unfortunates who didn’t have tickets was very long. Several people tried to persuade us to join their tour group but we demurred as we wanted to go ourselves. This proved to be a very good decision as once in we often had many parts almost to ourselves. The typical tour groups seemed to follow a pretty much direct line to the Sistine chapel–driving their customers before them wailing and gnashing (or something like that).
Anyway, we strolled about and saw things like:

Hall of Pope transportation

This was a long room with various carriages (up to “Pope-mobiles”) that had carried various Popes around.
This artifact in the Cortile della Pigna claims to be a sculpture by Arnaldo Pomodoro entitled “Sphere within a Sphere.” I personally suspect that it is a crashed Berserker Probe.
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