Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Book Review: Cumulus by Eliot Peper

Pros: plausible future, interesting characters, fast paced

Cons: ending 

In the near future, Cumulus controls much of the world’s technology. It’s founder, Huian Li, wants to extend her company’s reach but is frustrated when an important acquisition falls through. Graham Chandler used to work for the Agency until its never ending bureaucracy drove him out. He’s spent the past few years working his way through the ranks of Cumulus and now he’s making himself indispensable to Huian. Soon she’ll be his puppet and he’ll run Cumulus.

Lilly Miyamoto’s first love is film photography but she’s tired of pimping out her life, photographing Greenie weddings, barely able to afford her place in the slums. Two unexpected encounters give her the chance to make her photography mean so much more.

The book isn’t set too far in the future, but the internet has progressed and more things have been automated (cars, for example) and co-ordinated. The rich can afford the better private services of Cumulus, while state operated programs flounder due to reduced budgets. This has created an even larger socio-economic gap between the rich and the poor than currently exists. Graham’s soliloquies about past jobs in foreign countries and how he’s noticed the gap growing at home are quite interesting.

The main players were all fun to read about. They had layers to who they were, with ambitions, faults, habits, etc. I really liked Lilly’s gumption given her unfortunate circumstances.

The book is fast paced with short chapters creating a sense of tension as the story jumps between viewpoints.

I really enjoyed the book right up until the ending, when it all fell apart. Suddenly Graham’s motivation is lacking in a way that makes no sense. And while there’s a sense that the events of the book will have a huge impact on the players, some last minute decisions seemed odd considering what was about to happen. I’ll go into more detail in the spoiler section.

On the whole it was a fun, quick read. I just wish the author had spent more time considering the ending.


Problems I had with the ending:
1) I’m supposed to believe that Graham, who has constant thoughts about socio-political inequality decided to work for the largest tech company in the world - spending years getting to where he needed to be in order to start controlling it from behind the scenes - and had no idea what he wanted to do with the company? I’d assumed he had some plan for fixing the problems he always complained about. He’s simply too meticulous for me to believe he put in so much effort with no end goal in mind.

2) Huian plans to preempt Graham’s leak by leaking the information herself. Does that include the sex tapes he made using Cumulus’s spyware (including his blackmail files)? How about all the private financial, employment, and medical records of her employees? Because that’s all stuff he set up to release. And I doubt anyone will be thrilled to learn about the depth of information Cumulus can access and how lax their security protocols are with regards to the privacy of their customers. I can only imagine how many people would want to cancel their Cumulus service because of this leak.

3) Despite the very obvious legal trouble Huian is about to be in (she even mentions this) and her recent decisions ordering the execution of his lover, Frederick decides Huian should be on the advisory committee overseeing the implementation of bringing Cumulus to the poor. Now, assuming the privacy concerns of #2 don’t make people decide they’re better off without Cumulus recording all their private moments, how is she divorced enough from the company to be part of an independent council? She’d obviously side with the company and what the next CEO thinks is best.

4) Following on #3, how does removing a corrupt mayor help if pretty much everyone in politics and on the police force is equally corrupt? From what the book said, everyone worked with Frederick. And the problem with electing someone who isn’t corrupt is that you’re stuck voting for one of the people running for office, and how do voters know who is and isn’t corrupt?

5) Frederick states at the end of the book that he wants to retire and his organization will survive his leaving. If he had so little control of his operation, how has he not been replaced by someone with more ambition? I’m also a little concerned that the author set up the head of a criminal organization as the sole example of a great leader (following a phrase used just prior to this scene).

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Shout-Out: Exploded View by Sam McPheeters

It’s 2050, and LAPD Detective Terri Pastuzka has drawn the short straw with her first assignment of the new decade. Someone has executed one of the city’s countless immigrants, and no one (besides the usual besieged advocacy groups) seems to much care. Even Terri herself is already looking ahead to her next case before an unexpected development reveals there’s far more to this corpse than meets the eye.

And a lot already meets the eye. In a city immersed in augmented reality, the LAPD have their own superior network of high-tech eyewear—PanOpts, the ultimate panopticon—allowing Terri instant access to files and suspects and literal insertion into the crime scene using security footage captured from every angle the day the murder occurred. What started as a single homicide turns into a string of unsolved murders that tie together in frightening ways, leading Terri down a rabbit hole through Los Angeles’s conflicting realities—augmented and virtual, fantastically rumored and harrowingly true—towards an impossible conclusion.

Exploded View is the story of a city frozen in crisis, haunted by hardship and overwhelmed by refugees, where technology gives everyday citizens the power to digitally reshape news in real time, and where hard video evidence is impotent against the sheer, unrelenting power of belief. After all, when anyone can forge their own version of the truth, what use is any other reality?

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Video: Harry Potter and the Translator's Nightmare

This video by Vox explains how J.K. Rowling didn't give any advice to translators for the Harry Potter books (as the books were published by different publishers in different countries), and how - thanks to a lot of plays on words, puzzles, and made up words - translators had to get creative when translating the books.  I find it interesting that the Chinese version had end notes explaining cultural aspects (much like the English version of Cixin Liu's Three-Body Problem).

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Book Review: The Ultra Thin Man by Patrick Swenson

Pros: interesting plot, mostly fast paced, new aliens species

Cons: confusing opening, slow beginning

Memor technology allows humans to colonize several worlds. The Network Intelligence Office has been trying to catch Terl Plenko, leader of the Movement terrorist group. Plenko has been encouraging the colonies to leave the Union, using violent methods. The death of Plenko’s mate during an NIO mission on the Ribon colony puts investigative partners Dave Crowell and Alan Brindos on Plenko’s trail. His top henchmen (or maybe one of his alias’s) have potentially been seen on the vacation planet of Temonus, and Dave sends Alan there. Split up, they each learn that there’s a conspiracy going on, that they can’t trust the NIO, and that Plenko is more than he seems.

The book is narrated in alternating chapters by Dave Crowell, in first person, and Alan Brindos, in third person. While it makes it clear when you’re with the different protagonists, it took me several minutes of hunting through the text to figure out who the first narrator was (since he was “I” in the text) and properly understand what was going on. At the same time a lot of new terms are thrown at the reader, including a fair amount of tech terms, which didn’t help. Once I knew who the narrators were, I reread the first few chapters again to make sure I didn’t miss any clues with regards to the plot.

The first few chapters are quite slow as there’s a lot of exposition going on. After that, the narrative structure of quickly passing back and forth between the protagonists creates tension and interest, and the rest of the book was a rush of trying to figure out the mystery.

The mystery was very interesting. There are a lot of great twists and turns. So much happened that I could not have guessed in advance, which kept me on my toes, wondering how this was all going to end.

I enjoyed reading about both Alan and Dave. They’re proper noir PIs - thinking fast and cleverly inserting themselves where they need to be to get the information they want, though in the story they’ve contracted with the NIO and so have advanced resources. The supporting cast was varied and interesting, including several women and Helks (another alien race). I thought both Dorie and Jennifer were well written and intriguing.

While there weren’t many alien races, the Helks and Memors were kind of interesting. You learn more about the Helks, who are giant like humanoids.

If you like noir science fiction, this book has a great mystery and is a relatively quick read.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Honey Kvas Monastyrskiy

I’ve wanted to try mead for several year, despite the fact that I don’t like the taste of alcohol. I was able to try mulled wine in France, which to my surprise I really liked, and keep hoping that mead - another traditional medieval drink - will work for me.

The problem, of course, is few people make mead.

Going through the drinks section of my local grocery store I came across this:

Honey Kvas Monastyrskiy

For some reason, I got it into my head that this would be like mead.  It references honey - mead is made by fermenting honey - and it said ‘monastery’, and mead was traditionally made in monasteries.

So I bought it.

And it tastes pretty good! It’s got a bit of a malt flavour, but with a hint of honey. It’s sweet, but not overly so. I found the flavour complex and pleasant. It's also carbonated, which I liked. My husband had a hard time even sniffing the glass. I forced him to try a sip and that was enough for him! 

Looking it up online. Wikipedia had this to say:

Kvass is a traditional Slavic and Baltic fermented beverage commonly made from black or regular rye bread. The colour of the bread used contributes to the colour of the resulting drink. It is classified as a non-alcoholic drink by Russian standards, as the alcohol content from fermentation is typically low (0.5–1.0%). It may be flavoured with fruits such as strawberries and raisins, or with herbs such as mint.

Apparently, Kvass is easy to brew, requiring little more than bread and yeast, so it has a history as a drink for peasants.

Why do I mention this on my blog? World-building. What people eat and drink has a lot to say about their social class, wealth, local produce, etc. Everything is interconnected. Similarly, though a lot of fantasy characters travel a lot it’s rare for them to try new foods, new drinks, new spices, etc. People become habituated to their local diet, so when introduced to new tastes, they generally comment on it. Is their usual diet spicy or bland? Do they have a variety of spices to pick from (meaning they’re rich or live in a country that grows the spices) or are they dependent on herbs they can grow or collect themselves?

I live in a city with an increasingly diverse population, so my local grocery store has started stocking more varied foods. I love it, as it gives me the chance to learn more about the world - and what people eat and drink - without having to travel to those places (not that I’d be adverse to going most places, but time and money aren’t infinite).

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Open Road Launches New Online Community: The Portalist

I've checked out the site and there are a lot of interesting list and other articles.  Here's the press release: 


New York, NY, October 13, 2016—Open Road Integrated Media, a digital publisher and multimedia content company, announced today the launch of The Portalist—a new online community for fans of science fiction, fantasy, and genre-related pop culture news.

Heading up the new site as Senior Editor is Carolyn Cox, a writer and editor with extensive experience working in fandom and genre news. Prior to joining Open Road, Cox was an editor at the prominent pop culture news site The Mary Sue. Acting as strategic advisor to The Portalist is renowned science fiction and fantasy editor Betsy Mitchell, who spent ten years as VP and Editor-in-Chief of Random House’s Del Rey Books.

The Portalist will cover science fiction and fantasy as it exists across all mediums of entertainment and culture—from film and TV to video games, books, and comics, both past and present—but with the added focus on making the fan experience a positive one.

“The Portalist celebrates the great science fiction and fantasy that gets lost in the din, and shines a spotlight on the stuff we love. We’ll also explore pressing developments in tech, conservation, and space exploration, all from an optimistic and inclusive viewpoint. We celebrate science and imagination equally, and value possibilities and positivity,” Cox said.

“There’s a lot of anger in science fiction and fantasy right now,” she added. “Some of that anger is a necessary response to how women, people of color, and other marginalized groups are often misrepresented or left out of the narrative in geek media; but much of it is from fans who feel the fiction they love is ‘overrun’ by progressive values. In the midst of these cultural debates, inclusive, innovative media is sometimes overlooked. On the road to greater representation, it’s important to pause and celebrate the progress we’ve made.”                 

Open Road developed The Portalist after seeing extraordinary success with The Lineup, another content vertical focused on true crime, horror, and the bizarre. Launched in November of 2015, The Lineup now boasts more than 2 million unique users a month, with 130,000 newsletter subscribers and 260,000 Facebook fans.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Tor.com Publishing open to Fantasy Submissions

Submissions open today, October 12th and will stay open for 3 months.

From their website:

... Starting October 12, Lee Harris and Carl Engle-Laird will be reading and evaluating original novellas submitted by hopeful authors to http://submissions.tor.com/tornovellas/. You can find full guidelines here, and we highly recommend you read the guidelines before submitting. We will be open for three months, beginning on October 12th around 9:00 AM EDT (UTC-4:00) and ending on January 12th around 9:00 AM EST (UTC-5:00). We may extend this period depending on how many submissions we receive over the course of the open period.
Until the end of this open period, Tor.com will only be considering novellas of between 20,000 and 40,000 words that fit the epic fantasy, sword and sorcery, high fantasy, or quest fantasy genres, whether set on Earth or on an original fantasy world. However, we will only be considering novellas that inhabit worlds that are not modeled on European cultures. We are seeking worlds that take their influences from African, Asian, indigenous American, or Pacific cultures, or any diasporic culture from one of those sources. To qualify, novellas should center the experiences of characters from non-European-inspired cultures.
Both Lee Harris and Carl Engle-Laird actively request submissions from writers from underrepresented populations. This includes, but is not limited to, writers of any race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, nationality, class and physical or mental ability. We believe that good science fiction and fantasy reflects the incredible diversity and potential of the human species, and hope our catalog will reflect that.