Anathem

AnathemAnathem by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s hard to encapsulate a book that is so large in scope and so enjoyable to read. Your intellect revolts at trying to peg it down by mere description and emotionally… well… I just didn’t want the thing to end. When I found, on his site, someone had actually been inspired enough to create music (http://nealstephenson.com/anathem/music….) for Anathem I was amazed but, now that I’m done, I understand.

What can I say that you can’t read elsewhere. I might warn you that Stephenson is a master world builder and so it takes effort to get out of this world and into his. But, by God, it’s worth the effort!

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Cryptum

Cryptum (Halo: The Forerunner Saga, #1)Cryptum by Greg Bear

I admit I am a Halo fan but since his novel Eon I’ve been a Greg Bear follower. I was surprised but sceptical to see these two put together but I was willing to give it a chance.

The first few chapters didn’t make sense at first since it implied space-faring humans were involved with Forerunners 100,000 years ago. But eventually that was explained and the idea grew on me.

It’s no Eon, but that may not be fair as it isn’t a pure Bear invention. I certainly enjoyed it enough to want to read the next in the trilogy. I liked the revelation at the end.

Even so, I’d say this is only for diehard Halo fans.

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Wonder

WWW: Wonder (WWW, #3)WWW: Wonder by Robert J. Sawyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sawyer bills his WWW trilogy as the story of an optimistic singularity event. Where an AI achieves awareness but doesn’t go bad. Of course, it’s never so simple in a story by Canada’s dean of science fiction. Webmind has ‘his’ (he seems a him to me) growing pains especially when the powers that be in China decide to sever him again with a firewall.
I think it’s appropriate that the first e-book I have ever purchased is excellent science fiction like this. The formatting on the kobo app on my iPad had many faults but this final book of this series was such a page turner I found myself not caring.
This book is well worth the price of admission.

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Chimerascope

I just finished reading Douglas Smith’s second collection of short stories, called Chimerascope (Chizine Publications). These stories are primarily science fiction but there is fantasy and horror too. I enjoyed Smith’s characterization the most. These personas fly off the page and into your head and force you to think their thoughts. And that’s just about the best that fiction can aspire to.

Here’re the stories:

  • Scream Angel
  • The Red Bird
  • By Her Hand, She Draws You Down
  • New Year’s Eve
  • The Boys Are Back in Town
  • State of Disorder
  • Nothing
  • Symphony
  • Out of the Light
  • Enlightenment
  • Murphy’s Law
  • The Last Ride
  • Jigsaw
  • The Dancer at the Red Door
  • Going Harvey in the Big House
  • A Taste Sweet and Salty
  • Memories of the Dead Man

My favourites were Scream Angel and Enlightenment which are both stories in Smith’s Merged Coporate Entity universe (as is another excellent story, Memories of the Dead Man, which is from the early days of the MCE). The idea of a totally ruthless corporation driving conquest out into the stars using this drug called Scream which turns horror and pain into ecstasy was a revelation. And why wouldn’t such an extrapolation of the corporate greed that can create the tar sands and a thousand other environmental devastations upon the Earth be possible? I like these two stories because they offer hope that there is an answer and opposition to greed in Enlightenment.

The Boys Are Back in Town is an odd story combining a tavern on one of the Toronto Islands and characters from Norse and Greek mythology using mind altering substances to allow the mix. High adventure with a lot of tongue-in-cheek humour. Smith is right. I think Roger Zelazny would have loved it.

My son’s been watching the Saw movies and so I had prejudicial ideas about name of the story ‘Jigsaw’ but it was such a great story and nothing to do with horror. I think the Wormer idea is so cool but I won’t spoil the story by saying what that is.

The evidence for Smith’s talent is in abundance through this entire book. There wasn’t one story I didn’t like, even the horror genre pieces which I’m normally not into. They’re all so different, even the ones set in the same universe, that it’s hard to believe they came from the same person.

Very highly recommended.

Uncontained

It took
Mom’s funeral
to bring me home.

Or what had been home
51 years ago when
I’d left
so young
for
the new frontier
with Dad after the split.

I’m a Lunie now.
My wife, kids, were born there.
Adjusted to being enclosed and liking it.
We are the tunnelers.
Comfortable in the small
spaces where
you must count your breaths.

But, then, coming down
sunk me into nothing I remembered
from my ten-year-old self.
Sky uniform blue? Mashed potato clouds?
No.

I was thinking
gravity gravity gravity
the whole way down the
Clarke Elevator.
For though I’m a very strong man
on the Moon
on Earth I’d be as weak as a toddler.

The gravity was a killer
but it was nothing like the sky,
my magnified moon,
the stars shimmering and twinkling
more and more through the windows as
we fell.

In the wheelchair
on the ground
terrorized and fascinated by
a night time full of intermittent stars
my head lolling
I shut down. Passed out
from all that outer space.
Over-the-damn-top-whelmed.

I still get nightmares.
All far larger than
anything possible.
Yet nothing but thin air.
Me falling
up into vastness.

The next morning I woke in a bright hotel
to a terrifying sun
probing through too thin windows,
bigger and brighter than I thought possible.
I had to call the desk to find how to turn on the blind.
Then I had to fly to make the service.
In a airplane.
I shut my eyes the whole way there
relieved to find the thing
was a cozy,
secure tunnel
but those windows—
little reminders—
that we were
held up
by nothing more than all that free air.
Staring straight ahead
clutching armrests
they brought me drugs
for those fearful of flying.
They helped
a little
to unscare my wits.

Courage and
a liter of airport whiskey
was pretty much how
I managed the cemetery.
Loved that wheelchair.
Even if I could have stood
I wouldn’t have.
Racing the chair’s motor
from tree to tree
was how I kept from seeing
the falling up sky.
And gravity? Ha.
I loved that gravity.
Crush me more, gravity!

My wonderful mother
was gone and I missed her
terribly
we’d grown so close after Dad died,
talking and laughing through the delayed chats,
but, in that agony,
the urn couldn’t be placed
into that damn niche
fast enough.

The family must have found me rude.
Answers from between clenched teeth.
Drunk as much as I could be
to dull my vision.
And bolting for the van after it was done.
I couldn’t help it.
So grateful
the reception
was inside
and the glass was stained.

The rest of the trip I lied
when they wanted to show me places.
I had to stay inside to keep
from sunburn.
The gravity was
simply too much.

But I was the happy guest of honor:
fine with cards,
better with a drink,
loved meeting my grand-niece.
See the Falls? God no!
I could see that on video.
I just want to talk!

My last day
I remember little
as I took three pills
found in Mom’s sleeping meds
and stayed in a berth on a train
to get back.

When I finally came out of the fuzziness,
far above the atmosphere
on the ride up,
tears came to my eyes.
A stewardess offered help.
No.
No need.

Just happy,
self-banished,
I’m almost home.

-Tycho Enclave 2058/01/14-

The Road

This is an amazing piece of work. The main story, about a man (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee), takes place well after an apocalyptic nuclear war. Ecosystems have failed where they walk, possibly globally, and the big problem is finding food and avoiding those who would want to use them as food. This is not an easy picture to see. Everything is stark and soullessly grey. The director (John Hillcoat) chose to film it using the devastated landscape around Mt. St. Helens and on garbage-filled urban settings. What remains of happiness has to be found beneath the surface, in the relationship of the man and boy who are essentially nameless for the entire movie.
I haven’t read the novel by Cormac McCarthy (the screenplay was done by Joe Penhall) but I certainly want to now.
This film is all about the acting. Mortensen is immersed in his character 120%. He obviously starved himself and portrays the protective but practical father impeccably. Kodi Smit-McPhee will be an actor to watch for in the future: he will go far. It was amazing to see a young Australian actor playing an American boy so well and without a hint of an accent. Michael K. Williams plays a brief role as the thief so well that the memory of the encounter with the travelers is seared into my brain. Cameos by Robert Duvall (the Old Man), Guy Pearce (the Veteran) and Charlize Theron (the Mother) and others are superbly done.
The film is difficult to experience but is the most realistic depiction of the effects of a nuclear winter that I have ever seen outside of a documentary. I definitely recommend it.

Watch

Reading Watch, Rob Sawyer’s 2nd in the WWW trilogy, was awesome and worth the wait since last year’s Wake. Caitlin Decter is getting physically older but I expect she’s far too smart to be ‘growing up’ just yet. That is certainly part of her charm. Hell, that’s part of the charm of any teenager who knows too much for his or her age or good. I particularly enjoyed the incredibly quick ‘getting it on’ of Caithlin and Matt Reese. I love their first ‘date’ where Caitlin observes:

And — wow! — boy’s eyes really did do that. She’d read about it, but hadn’t yet seen it: straight to the boobs, and only apparently with an effort of will coming up to the face.

Webmind, on the other hand, is maturing incredibly fast. I’m very interested in seeing where Sawyer is going to take this super-intelligence in Wonder. I liked the ending with the poetic interruptus where the reader sees Webmind thinking in spurts around the single words of a human sentence. Kewl way to show human thought and speaking speeds as compared to the incredible speed of Webmind’s hopefulness.
Sawyer’s technical side is usually very well stocked with fact and there is nothing different here except that I would question Webmind’s ability to delete e-mails so easily and quickly. And more fundamentally I wonder how an entity built from ‘cellular automata consciousness’ would know if parts of it were under attack. It boggles the mind.
Like all of Sawyer’s books, this challenges and engages. Very worthwhile reading and recommended.