the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for October 2012

Geeky Halloween fun!

geeky pumpkin carving FOR THE WIN!

Some just plain weird Halloween costumes. also, Carl Sagan, which is awesome!

BoingBoing’s open thread for DIY Halloween fun. There are some f’ing brilliant photos in the comments.

What will I be doing at 8pm Wednesday night? watching Charlie Brown, of course!

The Pinterest Halloween feed. You’re welcome.

whatcha gonna do with that pumpkin? Roast the seeds and make pie of course! the best pumpkin pie recipe I’ve found, so far.

When you get back from that Pinterest feed, I’ve a cheesy but true Halloween story for you.

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Cordelia’s Honor, by Lois McMaster Bujold

published in 1999

where I got it: borrowed from a friend

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I don’t usually go for these ultra long series, I’m lazy and can’t be bothered to track down every single book and read them in a specific order. Ahh, but if the books can  be read in nearly any order (Vlad Taltos, Discworld, Culture, I’m staring at you!), and if a friend offers to lend me the first few books in the internal chronology, how could I say no?  Thus, my start of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series is begun.

Cordelia’s Honor is comprised of the short novels Shards of Honor, and Barrayar, which are the chronological beginning of McMaster Bujold’s famous Vorkosigan series.  I read them as one long novel, and what better way to get introduced to the series’ titular character, Miles Vorkosigan, than to meet his parents first?

Cordelia Naismith is captain of a Betan scientific mission. She mostly keeps her crew focused on what they are doing and out of trouble. Attacked on a planet, she becomes the prisoner of Aral Vorkosigan, heir to a noble family on the planet Barrayar. Recently out of it’s “time of Isolation”, Barrayar is the complete opposite of Beta Colony. Where the Betans are known as an egalitarian society, Barrayar is steeped in male dominance.  The Betans live lives of ease, with access to the best medical technology and mental health services, whereas on Barrayar women still die in childbirth and mental illness or physical ailments are seen as incurable and exploitable defects.

Aral Vorkosigan is Cordelia’s social opposite, but they believe in the same things – respect, dignity, honor, doing the right thing at all times. I can’t say there wasn’t any Stockholm Syndrome going on here, but when Cordelia is eventually able to return to her homeworld, she learns she’s changed too much to be welcomed home.  One thing leads to another, and the only safe place for her is the path that continues her relationship with Aral Vorkosigan.

Cordelia’s Honor is incredibly dense. McMaster Bujold crams about 1200 pages of plot and characterization into a few hundred pages,  showing us, through Cordelia’s eyes, the corrupted royal house of Barrayar, it’s bloodthirsty noble families, and Cordelia and Aral’s attempts at a normal life.  She’s a foreigner, he’s the guardian to the young Emperor. The one thing they can never have is a normal life. McMaster Bujold is most definitely following that time honored philosophy of coming up with the worst possible things an author can do to their characters, and then doing it, again and again, in ever more tragic and horrific ways, keeping the reader turning pages and biting nails.

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Sudden, Broken and Unexpected (novella) by Steven Popkes

December issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction

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Can music be broken down into ones and zeroes, bits and micro-bits? Can music be written by an AI?

possibly.  sort of.  maybe?

Which leads to questions of how would one program and AI to pass a musical Turing Test, where the music written by the AI is indistinguishable from the creative musical abilities of a human? Is such a thing possible? and if it were, how would the music loving public react?

In Steven Popkes latest short story, Sudden, Broken, and Unexpected,  he takes the above and slowly turns it inside out, in the process creating a highly impactful story.

The story opens with musician Jake Mulcahey taking a job to revise and rewrite some  fairly generic pop music.  In his youth, Jake had gone on the road with his band as they chased the fame of their sole hit single. Jake is still haunted by his bad decisions, the fact that he is the reason the band broke up.  Since then, he’s put out a few studio albums, and stays mostly behind the scenes in the music industry.

Besides, who would want to see an oldster like Jake on stage playing guitar, when instead they could pay to see a holographic Divaloid?  Even better, Divaloids can be downloaded into your own home. They aren’t people, they are licensing and programming. There isn’t anything a Divaloid can’t or won’t do to please a fan.  That’ll start to get creepy once that thought sinks into your brain, and it’s supposed to.

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I have a guest post over at Bastard Books today, and we’re talking Urban Fantasy.  Or, to be more specific, why most UF turns me off.   There’s already some interesting conversations going on the comments.

leave it to Bastard to get me to lay my soul bare.

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snarky snippet:

So much of the urban fantasy I see when I go to Barnes and Noble these days seems like a fashion spread for really tight pants, anorexia, and neat tattoos. A stupid reason to be sure, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say the cover art on a lot of these books is a major turn off to me. Judging a book by the cover? Yes, that’s exactly what I’m doing. . .

Read the rest here!

Hubby and I spent the weekend away and had a delightfully nerdy and book-wonderful weekend.

Saturday was a board gaming party, where much Vegas Casino building, nun chasing, alien blasting and monster slashing fun was had by all. Also pies. I never realized there was such a thing as too much pie.

Sunday we found ourselves on the outskirts of Michigan State University. Had someone told me the MSU campus was that lovely, I’d have ended up there instead of my alma mater. so many brick buildings! We went to Curious Books, where I picked up a Steven Brust, some Cordwainer Smith, some Neal Asher, a Peter Watts, and a few other goodies. Great bookstore. if you are in Lansing, hit up Curious Books. Nicely organized store, friendly and helpful staff, and half the basement was old scifi magazines and anthologies, how sweet is that?  North edge of campus, down the street from the super awesome bubble tea place and the very strange looking art museum, you can’t miss it.

After Curious, we hit up Schuler’s books and music. not much of a scifi section, and very much with the vibe of a chain bookstore, this isn’t my usual hangout.  Ahhh, but this afternoon at Schuler’s was so very different.  they bring in plenty of authors, but the woman they brought in this past Sunday, is someone very special and dear to my heart. Her books have held my heart in their pages, have caressed my face with their imagery, and they usually make me cry at the end. tears of agony, tears of happiness, tears of beauty, sometimes all at the same time. She’s an amazing author, and a friendly, funny, snarky, darkly brilliant person.

here’s a hint:

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as a surprise, a very good friend of mine lent me her kindle, preloaded with a few anthologies I’m interested in, and two Neal Asher novels, which I was very interested in. She certainly knew how to tease me.

Change, to mis-quote Agent Smith, is inevitable.

After a few days of staring at the thing, I decided I better pick it up and start using it. What if I couldn’t figure out how it worked?  what if I broke it (Don’t worry E, it’s perfectly safe!)?  GULP, what if I liked it, and had all this time been a super-hypocrite of e-readers??

Here’s goes nuthin’, right?

Granted, I have read PDFs of books before, but they were usually exactly that – a PDF of the printed version, complete with page numbers at the bottom, identifiers at the top, chapter page breaks, etc. On the screen it looked exactly like the page of a book, and if I printed it out, it looked like I’d photocopied a page out of the printed book.

but these true e-books? these are  interesting beasts.  I feel like a scifi character on a mission of first contact. Will I be able to communicate with the alien? will their technology dwarf mine? how does their language and syntax compare to what I’m used to?
Some nice surprises that I liked about the Kindle, and the e-book experience:

The skinnyness of the thing is very nice. It nestles perfectly in my purse, and I feel very sophisticated reading from it during lunchtime at work. It also has a super durable leather cover, offering a little bit of tactile interaction, and a lot of protection.  I’m not a klutz, but a little extra protection on an expensive electronic gizmo is always a plus.

The buttons and menus are very intuitive. it holds a battery charge a long time, and even better it uses the same universal charger as my cell phone. It took me less than 5 minutes of messing with the thing to figure out the basic menu options, how to tell how much battery was left, etc. Intuitiveness is a big plus for non-techies like me.

And the things that shouldn’t have been a surprise, but were:

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The Skinner, by Neal Asher

published in 2005

where I got it: borrowed from a friend

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So often in science fiction, immortality is found through technological means – we upload, or become cyborg, or some such. How refreshing to come across a biological method of immortality  in Neal Asher’s The Skinner, and that’s just the first of many refreshing concepts presented in this unique space opera.

Discovered around a thousand years ago, the planet known as Spatterjay is unique in the universe. The environs of the planet are so harsh and the poisons coursing through the bodies of its indigenous species so volatile that every life form on the planet has evolved to survive. Nearly every life form on the planet is teeming with a native virus, that for all intents and purposes, makes its victims immortal. On Spatterjay, the most valuable commodity is permanent death.

If you could survive any injury, how would it change how your life? To the citizens of Spatterjay, decapitation puts a crimp in one’s afternoon, not one’s life. Those with a weak stomach may want to skip The Skinner, as Asher has quite a bit of magnificently disgusting fun putting characters through the physical ringer.

The story begins with the arrival of three off-worlders.  The depressed yet curious Erlin who is searching for a famous ship captain who keeps a monster’s head in his sea chest; Keech, the cyborg corpse cop who has a score to settle with the remaining pirates who were involved with enslaving the citizens of Spatterjay; and Janer, who tries to convince every one he’s a simple tourist employed by a hive mind.  And circling high above them all are the snarky subminds of the Artificial Intelligence who manages the government of Spatterjay.  And we can’t forget the semi-intelligent long-necked large-winged living Sails, who are an integral part of the fishing industry on Spatterjay. If you read The Skinner for no other reason, read it for the Sails.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.