January 13, 2008

Digital Dystopia

Posted in sci fi at 11:23 pm by Mike Milinkovich

I’ve been slacking off on the sci-fi updates, but the reading itself has been coming along pretty well. In fact, I’ve read through two authors since my last post on the topic.

Charles Stross just rocks. Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise are two of the best sci-fi books I have ever read. Well written, great plots, character development aplenty, and an alternative future that is truly compelling. The weird thing is that I was disappointed with Accelerando, which I had heard such great things about. I found a lot of the cyberpunk imagery feeling overly familiar, and the ending (to me) simply felt like he ran out out of gas. Ya, I know its a set of short stories, but I still think the conclusion could have been better.

Reading Richard Morgan was an interesting experience. I literally could not put the books (Altered Carbon, Broken Angels and Woken Furies) down. The pace was fantastic, equal to the very best detective or military novels out there. Morgan’s alternative future is a well constructed and nuanced dystopia where humanity has created a form of digital immortality that is just (yet?) another mechanism for the powerful to exploit the proletariat.

But I have to admit that after a couple of novels focused on a psychopathic killer slaughtering his way through Morgan’s vision of relentless class warfare I was tired. I mean seriously, I find dialectical materialism as amusing as the next guy but the politics of Morgan’s books are about as subtle as a Chomsky polemic.

That said, as I understand it, at least Altered Carbon has been optioned for a movie. The action film possibilities for these plot lines could really be cool. Cool as in even better than Blade Runner, as hard as that might be to believe.

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August 31, 2007

Summer is Over

Posted in family, sci fi at 4:22 pm by Mike Milinkovich

How do I know that?

  1. Labour Day weekend is upon us.
  2. Nick is leaving home to go to Queen‘s tomorrow.
  3. I finished the fifth book in my summer sci-fi reading list.

Yes, my no-longer-little boy is headed off to university. It is certainly a bittersweet moment. But as Cathie said, it would be a lot worse if we weren’t so confident that he is completely ready to go. He is so much more grounded and mature than I was at 17.

On the sci-fi front, by pure luck I managed to save the best for last. I loved Weapons of Choice. It was by far and away the best of the five books on the list. The difference, however, was not its vision of the future as compelling as it was. John Birmingham is just simply a great writer. The quality of the characters, their development and the prose is just head and shoulders above the others.

To be honest, I had seen the book in bookstores several times but had just never bought it. It seemed too close to Harry Turtledove‘s Worldwar series which I had read a few years back. I’ve ordered the next two books in Birmingham’s trilogy. But so far, I like it a lot better than WorldWar.

I found this comment in the Wikipedia article on Weapons of Choice baffling:

Weapons of Choice has been both hailed and criticized by members of the alternate history community. Some believe it to over-emphasize the racism and sexism of the 1942 Allies, to the point of their being barely morally superior to the Axis.

I thought he got the views and social mores of the time exactly right. The US Navy really was all-white in WW II. Racism and segregation was the order of the day. But to say that his writing implied a moral equivalence between the Allies and the Axis seems wildly overblown.

It is chilling to think that a mere 80 years separated the two societies portrayed in the book. The characters from 2021 might have been human, but truthfully, this book has its roots in the alien encounter genre. Highly recommended.

August 16, 2007

Body Hacking and Rainbow’s End

Posted in computers, sci fi at 10:09 am by Mike Milinkovich

I am really very sorry that I missed Quinn Norton’s talk at OSCON on Body Hacking. But I did find a version of her slides, and Alasdair Allan’s blow-by-blow description of her talk.

I strongly suggest that people take a look at what she’s talking about, because this stuff is obviously happening and happening quickly. Any talk that ends with “What counts as human?” is worth a look. The moral and ethical conundrums are mind-bending.

The body hacking ideas are particularly interesting to me because I just finished reading Rainbow’s End…one of my summer sci-fi reading list. A wonderful book, with lots of very interesting ideas on what society will be like in a world of wearable computers and utterly ubiquitous wireless networking. Another great pick by Andreessen.

Then today, I also stumbled across a news article on the invention of paper nanotube batteries that are “…a prime candidate for being implantable inside the body…” because “…the battery may also be activated by the electrolytes found in human secretions and fluids“.

So my conclusion: Rainbow’s End has a great vision of the future, but likely didn’t go far enough. The future is likely to be far stranger…and much sooner…than people expect.

July 23, 2007

Summer Sci-Fi So Far

Posted in sci fi at 7:11 pm by Mike Milinkovich

So as I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’m working my way through a goodly chunk of Marc Andreessen’s top-ten new sci-fi authors list.

I realized after my last post that I wrote my initial list of five books in a pretty goofy order, as three out of the five were part of the same trilogy by John Scalzi: Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigade and The Last Colony.

So let’s to the chase: so far Marc is on the money. As a lifelong Heinlein fan, the trilogy was wonderful. And I am suffering from the sleep deprivation to prove it. Highly recommended. Great use of science to lay out an alternative future universe with characters that are interesting and worthy of your attention.

July 10, 2007

Summer Sci-Fi Reading

Posted in sci fi at 11:28 am by Mike Milinkovich

I’ve been reading Sci-Fi since I was 11 years old. In grade 6, I checked out Robert A. Heinlein’s “Have Spacesuit Will Travel” from the Knoxdale Public School library and became totally hooked. I’ve read just about everything Heinlein ever wrote, and likely ended up with a slightly more libertarian outlook on life as a result.

But I have to admit that my sci-fi reading has been a little stale recently. My usual algorithm of heading to Chapters and finding something that looks interesting has resulted in a couple of real duds lately.

I recently stumbled what looks to be a great list. Marc Andreessen’s top ten sci-fi authors for the 00’s. I ordered five books off of Amazon a few days ago, so I will let you know what I think of his list after I’ve worked my way through a couple of them.

The first ones I picked were:

  1. Old Man’s War
  2. The Last Colony
  3. Rainbow’s End
  4. The Ghost Brigade
  5. Weapons of Choice