Wednesday, May 28, 2014
We're through the looking glass here people, more links from the depths of the internets. Fear them.
Sunday, May 25, 2014
Hugo Awards: Neptune's Brood
I didn't need to get very far into the Hugo-nominated Neptune's Brood to come to an initial conclusion that author Charles Stross doesn't like money very much (and the same goes for its corollaries, debt and capitalism). I'm only really calling this out because much has been made during this Hugo season about how SF should or shouldn't be political, how some authors stress ideology over storytelling, and the like. Personally, I think it a little foolish to prescribe what a piece of fiction can and can't do, and this book is probably a good example. I do not take anywhere near the dim view of money, debt, or capitalism that Charlie Stross apparently does, and yet I greatly enjoyed this book. Why? Because Stross thoroughly explored the universe he created, and any questions you might have about the economic conundrums that he devises are answered, and he did it while telling a fun space opera story. Indeed, the ideas of this book come off to me as a grand thought experiment on the expense of interstellar travel, and the various realities any such endeavor would face.
Thousands of years in the future, humanity has gone extinct (multiple times). It turns out that the human body, while well adapted to survive on earth, is not very well adapted for space travel. But our story follows beings that are so closely patterned after humans that they have maintained much of our social and cultural norms, as well as the physical form factors (though those are often adapted to their environments as well, as we see in the course of this story). Reproduction seems much simpler, with children being "instantiated" rather than born, among other such terminology derived from software and hardware, but on the other hand, messy human characteristics like emotions and love still seem to exist. These are post-humans, but ones that are easy to relate to.
Krina Alizond is a "forensic accountant" who has embarked on a decades long study pilgrimage to visit and work with several of her colleagues. As the book opens, she has just found out that one of her colleagues, a distant sib named Ana, has disappeared in mysterious circumstances. It doesn't take long for Krina to get entangled in a similar web as she seeks out her sister and gradually finds out that the subject of their study, various interstellar debt scams, has become somewhat more complicated in that they've stumbled upon the biggest financial scam in the history of the universe. Along for the ride are a small crew of down-on-their-luck religious folk (though their religion appears to surround bringing back "fragile" human beings), a look-alike assassin hot on Krina's tale, privateers chasing Krina's sister's life-insurance policy, and a group of squid-like communists.
The story generally takes the form of a roller-coaster space opera, with occasional interludes of exposition and info-dumping. It's mostly written from the first perspective of Krina, and you could argue that this is a rather clunky way of delivering a lot of exposition, but on the other hand, I rather thought those chapters were among the most interesting in the book.
Much of the detail surrounds the nature of metahumanity's expansion to the stars, how expensive that proposition is, and how that expense is structured. A lot of this falls back on physical realities like the speed of light, and how it takes centuries to reach new star systems and so on and so forth. It turns out that using something as malleable and fragile as "cash" in that context is rather foolish. Stross takes the unglamorous nature of space travel and expansion and combines it with economics, devising a clever ponzi scheme of debt based on something called "Slow Money":
Slow money is a medium of exchange designed to outlast the rise and fall of civilizations. It is the currency of world-builders, running on an engine of debt that can only be repaid by the formation of new interstellar colonies, passing the liability ever onward into the deep future ...For all its benefits, Slow Money does seem to have a lot of structural difficulties. Krina, being a forensic accountant, has studied all sorts of scams and just plain failures (where, for example, one of the three involved parties dies to soon or other such similarities). Her job is often to swoop in and grab unclaimed slow money that has been sitting around for centuries. There's even a fantastic riff on the usual hand-wavey FTL mumbo-jumbo that always shows up in Space Operas. Here, Stross has adapted the Spanish Prisoner scheme to work on an interstellar scale. If FTL travel was invented, it would suddenly make it possible to trade fast money across interstellar distances, thus depreciating all of the slow money out there (and slow money is what the rich and powerful trade in, so you can see why they would want to preserve the status quo). It's impossible to travel faster than light, but that doesn't stop con artists from attempting to defraud folks (only now it's happening across the vast distances of interstellar space).
I won't obsess over all the nooks and crannies of these shenanigans, except to say that I really enjoyed the way Stross was able to structure all of this and build his plot around it. I also enjoyed the way that Stross was able to adhere to known physics of the universe and pull interesting story aspects out of that, rather than just hand waving his way around the science the way a lot of space operas would. One example of that is the concept of Slow Money, but we also touch on things like interstellar warfare ("It is a well-understood truism that interstellar warfare is impossible") and some impressive underwater conceptualization.
From what I've read of the Best Novel ballot thus far, this seems to be vying for my number one vote (along with Ancillary Justice). I have not finished Mira Grant's Parasite and have only just begun Larry Correia's Grimnoir Chronicles, but from what I've read so far, I don't see them overtaking Neptune's Brood or Ancillary Justice.
As for the politics of the story, there were maybe one or two paragraphs in the book where it felt like Stross was simply lecturing for ideology's sake, but even those were generally part of the story he was trying to tell here. If I felt obliged to not read anything I thought I might disagree with (or to denounce such things), I'd find myself reading very little (or enjoying even less of what I read). While an author's politics will no doubt color their work, some authors are more difficult to figure out than others. Stross seems pretty easy to read. While I tended to think of his story as a grand thought experiment, there are definitely times (the aforementioned "lecturing" graphs) when I caught a whiff of something more politically motivated. Other authors may be more difficult to suss out, but even a cursory glance at Charlie's Diary indicates that yes, Charlie and I would probably disagree about a lot of things when it comes to economics. And you know what? That's awesome! No one has all the answers, and the idea that we all thought the same things and didn't question anything would be far more terrifying than the fact that Charlie and I might disagree about something (which is not, in any way, terrifying to me).
This might seem obvious, but the amount of vitriol expended over this year's ballot (from both the right and left) seems rather misplaced. When people talk about politics ruining SF, I don't think they're talking about the fact that, for example, Stross's book takes a dim view of capitalism. They're talking about the way we discuss those views, and the fact that some folks are attempting to game the nominations process (and others, seeing this, are attempting to counter by blanket voting against certain authors and works, etc... without even reading those books). Me, I don't want to politicize my every action, I don't want to let politics determine my every move, and I don't want to do an exhaustive biography of every author I could potentially read to see if their views align with mine. Not only is that unnecessary, it's unhealthy. It's a good thing to have your core, foundational beliefs challenged from time to time. It can be infuriating, but it is often productive. There are extreme cases, times when it becomes impossible to separate the art from the artist (hello Vox Day), but I would argue that those should be rare exceptions. Otherwise, I would have stopped reading this book and missed out on what may be my favorite nominee. I used to think this was an obvious truism, but apparently it's not: it's possible to enjoy or like a book without agreeing with it (or without liking the author as a person, not that we ever really get to know the author). I'm really happy that I read this book, and I'm going to be facing a difficult decision when it comes to voting time...
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Adventures in Brewing: Barleywine Bottling
After six long weeks of fermentation (three primary and three secondary), it was finally time to bottle the barleywine and hot damn, it seems to be in rather fantastic shape right now. Add in a little carbonation and this stuff should be prime. Amazing caramel and dark fruit notes, and the bourbon oaked version seems to have taken on more of that character here than my RIS did... Speaking of which, I went with the same approach as the RIS. Primary fermentation was all together, but when I transferred to secondary I split the batch, leaving one alone and adding bourbon soaked oak cubes to the other. At bottling time, I bottled some of the plain barleywine, did a 1:1 blend and bottled some of that, and then the remainder of straight bourbon oaked beer. Also of note, the beer looked really pretty, especially when I held it up to light, a gorgeous dark amber color that isn't quite as prominent in the picture below, but it's still a nice looking beer.
Like I said, this batch smelled and tasted rather awesome even this early in the process, so I can't wait for these to condition in the bottle. I figure I'm in for another 3 weeks or so before it'll be ready, though I'm sure I'll check one of the "transition" bottles (I separated the first couple bottles after each transition from straight barleywine to the bourbon oaked version because of the liquid in the tubing made for an inconsistent blend, though I'm sure the beer will be fine).
At this point, I'm unsure if I'll do another batch before the heat of summer really kicks in. If I do, it may just be a small 4% saison for the keg. Next fall, I'm planning on doing a Scotch Ale (perhaps with a similar bourbon oak treatment) and maybe something like a black IPA (or whatever the heck you call that stuff). I also want to give the Imperial Red ale another chance someday. But for now, I've got a few cases of barleywine and stout to work through, which should last me a while (and quite honestly, I'd much rather free up those bottles than scrape the labels off these other ones because damn, that's an annoying process).
(Cross Posted at Kaedrin Beer Blog)
Sunday, May 18, 2014
Hugo Awards: The Eye of the World
When I was but a wee nerd of 11 or 12, I had a brief dalliance with Dungeons & Dragons. For whatever reason, I found the High Fantasy stuff fascinating and gobbled up game manuals and started reading The Lord of the Rings. This was before my love of reading really kicked into high gear too, so it was notable that I was reading this stuff on my own. And it wasn't the first time, either. I have fond memories of reading Lloyd Alexander's Prydain books for school, and even wrote a knockoff short story on my Commodore 64 called The Land of Analak (I'm pretty sure I still have a hard copy of this somewhere; I'm also positive that it was terrible.) All of which is to say, I don't know when or even why I fell out of love with High Fantasy, but at some point, Horror and Science Fiction became my reading mainstays, with only the rare Fantasy novel for variety.
As such, if I had picked up the first book in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, The Eye of the World, when it was published in 1990 (i.e. right around the height of my exploration of fantasy), I would have probably loved it. Instead, here I am 24 years later, slogging through it because the entirety of The Wheel of Time was nominated for a Best Novel Hugo Award. I've already covered how a 14 book, 11,000+ page, 4 million+ word series of books came to be nominated as a single work (short story: a quirk in Hugo nomination rules says that if no individual work in a series is nominated, the entire series can be nominated once it concludes), so I won't belabor the controversy all that much. Ultimately, it wouldn't even really matter if only the most recent work was nominated, as it would probably be difficult to read without knowing what happened in all the earlier installments.
After finishing this first volume in the series, I will say that there's no way that I will finish the series this year (it's simply too long) and I'm positive that it will not land in the top two slots of my Best Novel ballot. It's not that The Eye of the World (henceforth TEotW) is bad, per say, just that it did not reinvigorate my decades past love of the Fantasy genre. You might think that a bit unfair, but I will say that some recent consumption actually has sparked some interest in exploring more of the genre, notably Lois McMaster Bujold's Chalion novels and the Game of Thrones TV series, both of which really grabbed me in ways that TEotW failed to.
In a lot of ways, this book was exactly what I was expecting. Heroes journey, complete with naive farmboy? Check. Mysterious cloaked riders? Check. Obvious Tolkien inspiration? Check. Hearty stew? Check. The number of fantasy cliches this book hits is almost impressive, even to a genre novice. On the other hand, there were plenty of things I wasn't expecting, and there were a bunch of things I did really enjoy.
The story follows the aforementioned naive farmboy Rand al'Thor, who is pretty obviously The Chosen One, despite attempts to obscure that fact by ensnaring 3 naive farmboys (Rand, Mat, and Perrin) in the scheme. Their idyllic little hamlet, Emond's Field, is mysteriously attacked by
At first, I was happy to see that your typical "Chosen One" plot was obscured by the notion of three boys being targeted, but since the story is mostly told through Rand's eyes, it seemed pretty obvious to me that he was The One (there are some other indications of this that I did not pick up on, unless I was doing so unconsciously). At some point on their journey, they do get split up, so there are some other viewpoints, but Rand and Mat are together (and their sections are told from Rand's perspective) and Perrin runs afoul of some wolves, making it pretty clear that he has other latent talents. As a protagonist, Rand is rather bland, which tends to be the case with these hero's journey type stories. A blank slate of a protagonist makes for an easy entry point for readers (and would undoubtedly have ensnared a younger me), though there's not a ton of depth to the character or even much of an arc throughout this book (but then, there are still 13 books to go...) He is mostly passive, scraping by through luck and the goodwill of others.
As characters go, most of the core seem only slightly less bland than Rand. Mat is a bit of a prankster, and gets caught up in some cursed treasure like an idiot. Perrin seems like the strong silent type, and he's got some talent for talking to wolves, which is neat. The aforementioned Aes Sedai is named Moiraine, and she seems more interesting due more to the fact that she's an Aes Sedai than anything else. There is much in the way of rumors and hearsay about Aes Sedai bandied about here, which is actually a rather interesting notion. Most of the time, a story like this would buckle down for gigantic info dumps (of which there are still plenty, don't worry), but what we get here is a more realistic sort of information. Aes Sedai are famous, but their fame seems to be an accumulation of misunderstandings and half-truths. Or something like that. They do not seem to have great reputations, with many warning that accepting the help of an Aes Sedai will open you up to repayment of some kind, like they're some sort of Mafia/Lawyer hybrid. Moiraine is the only Aes Sedai we see a lot of in this story, so perhaps she's an uncommon example, or perhaps she just hasn't dropped the hammer on our unsuspecting farmboys (I was definitely expecting something of the sort in this book, and it did not really come). Moiraine has a warder named Lan that is basically a badass bodyguard, though we find out enough about him to know that he's also a bit of a poet. I suppose you could call Egwene a love interest for Rand, though not much comes of that, and the story instead focuses on her desire for adventure and latent abilities that could allow her to become an Aes Sedai herself. Then there's Nynaeve, who initially seems rather caustic and whiny, but also has some latent magical abilities (there's a lot of that going around in this book). Finally, we've got Thom Merrilin, who is an old "gleeman" (basically a bard or entertainer). He's old, well traveled, and wizened, and has enough experience to help guide our lowly farmboys.
To be honest, my favorite characters tended to be off on the periphery. There's Min, who is basically a fortune teller and seems rather cool (though we get very little of her here). There's a loner named Elyas who can communicate with wolves, and helps awaken the latent ability in Perrin. Rand accidentally meets a princess, some princes, and the queen (and her feared Aes Sedai advisor). I suspect many of these characters would be fleshed out in future installments, and I would be disappointed if they weren't...
In the end, I did enjoy this book. It reads like a slightly more accessible, but bloated Tolkien story. I'm reminded of the Tom Bombadil chapter in Fellowship of the Ring, except that I feel like there were, like, 7 Tom Bombadils that seemed inconsequential for this particular installment, but who will show up later in the series (not that Tom Bombadil shows up much in the rest of LotR, but still). I'm a little unsure how to really think about this book in context of the Hugo awards though. I feel like many of the things I'm holding against it would be resolved later in the series, but on the other hand, the fact that the series is so long is prohibitive in itself. I've mentioned before that I don't necessarily mind long books, even meandering ones, but even I have my limits. While I'm sure much of this stuff will be fleshed out in the sequels, I still can't quite shake the notion that this didn't really need to be as long as it is. But since Tor has decided to include the entire series in the Voters Packet, I will most certainly read more of the series before I vote, but given what I've read so far, I can't see myself getting too carried away with this. I did grow to like this story as I read it, and now that I'm familiar with a lot of the concepts, maybe the future installments will be less jarring. That being said, given its competition in the Best Novel category, I can't see this one winning...
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Again Saved Titles
Last week, I wrote about my sad devotion to physical media, and how even that has failed me when it comes to some movies. I went through a few of the movies on my Saved Titles list that Netflix doesn't even have DVDs for, and today we continue that list:
Sunday, May 11, 2014
Just some links culled from the depths of the internets:
Wednesday, May 07, 2014
I'm one of those guys. The people who still have the Netflix DVD/BD program. I know, physical media! Go ahead, make with the jokes, but have you seen the selection on Netflix Instant? Any self-professed lover of movies needs something a little more comprehensive, especially people like me, who get a hankering to do obscure genre marathons, like German Krimi films from the 1950s and 60s or their sister sub-genre, Italian Giallos from the 60s and 70s. I also have Amazon Prime, so I get some movies there too, but as with Netflix Instant, if you're really hunting down a specific movie (especially an obscure one), you're generally out of luck (though you may get the option to pay a la carte, which I guess is better than nothing). There are other options, Fandor, iTunes, Hulu, HBOGO, etc... but even combined, most of this stuff pales to the selection provided by Netflix DVD. That being said, Netflix's DVD selection is not perfect either. I don't know if it's "getting worse", but I did notice that I have 41 movies on the "Saved Titles" list, which is an awful lot. Granted, several of those are movies that are either still in theaters or haven't come out yet, but several are movies you would expect them to have. Let's take a look at a few of them.
Sunday, May 04, 2014
SF Book Review, Part 16
So while I start chomping through this year's Hugo Nominees (controversies aside), I figure I'll catch up on some non-Hugo related (er, mostly) reviews.
Where am I?
This page contains entries posted to the Kaedrin Weblog in May 2014.
Kaedrin Beer Blog
12 Days of Christmas
2006 Movie Awards
2007 Movie Awards
2008 Movie Awards
2009 Movie Awards
2010 Movie Awards
2011 Fantastic Fest
2011 Movie Awards
2012 Movie Awards
2013 Movie Awards
6 Weeks of Halloween
Arts & Letters
Computers & Internet
Disgruntled, Freakish Reflections
Philadelphia Film Festival 2006
Philadelphia Film Festival 2008
Philadelphia Film Festival 2009
Philadelphia Film Festival 2010
Science & Technology
Security & Intelligence
The Dark Tower
Weird Movie of the Week
Copyright © 1999 - 2012 by Mark Ciocco.