Book Review: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

 

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Note the cream bedsheets; yes, I read it with class. Not pictured: infuser with sexy lavender oil.

I haven’t sat down and read an entire novel, in one sitting, in a really, really long time. I’m thinking since Peter Watts’s Starfish, back in 2005.

Autonomous took that prize.

I’ll give a non-spoiler version, and then after the read more tag, I’ll go quite a bit more in-depth with what I loved about this book. Also a few spoilers. BECAUSE HOLY SHIT. #professional

Quick overview: Autonomous takes place roughly 150 years from now, and centers on two groups of people: a drug pirate named Jack and her associates Threezed, Krish, Med, and those at Free Lab, and the IPC (Intellectual Property Commission? I think) duo of Eliasz and Paladin–an indentured robot–along with their support infrastructure.

A Big Pharma company creates a work efficiency drug that is intended to be marketed only to the wealthy. Jack reverse engineers it to be sold to the less fortunate, finds out it is highly addictive and damaging, and the pharma company wants to keep it under wraps. In turn, it sends its personal police to hunt down the terrorist (Jack) and keep the information secret/safe/profitable.

Overclocked with tech evolution, smart characters and smarter digital communications, and relationships that melded into the complexity of the story with clarity and power, Autonomous was just as interesting to read for the story as it was for the insight and depth of understanding for tech.

It covers themes of humanity, personhood, gender relations, technology relations, the complex nature of AI, patent law, Big Pharma, lawful vs. moral vs. ethical, security, and community (along with, I’m certain, lots I overlooked in the meantime).

I could be wrong, but I know of nobody else writing like this. And it is beautiful. If I had to give number score out of ten, I’d give it 9/10. It’s really, really, really that good. If you’re a tech nerd, if you’re a gamer, if you’re a digital humanities person, if you love science fiction, if you want a great read, get this book. It is a harmony of stories.

I’m getting a second copy just to share with a friend.  Continue reading

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Follow-up on my previous Post

Maybe I’ve been out of the “critique” circle for too long, or maybe my interests have dumbed down since I embarked on this great quest to pay off my debts working a non passion-filled job. I don’t know.

The past week was filled with reading critiques on the Batman V Superman movie, having conversations with friends concerning what they liked or didn’t like, and boning up on “background” for the movie that I might have missed. I’m a little humbled, a little confused, and perhaps even feeling a little tenacious about my stance on the movie.

I’m usually in the minority with my perspectives. This is the first time I’ve been alone. Haha

So I’m writing a follow-up to try and put my thoughts on paper. Continue reading

Book Review: The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

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I’d like to think everyone’s talking about this book. It’s probably not the case, but from the writing sphere of this world, this book is a very, very important read. It’s short, sweet, and most avid readers can finish it in, oh, two hours. If you read slow, like me, it’ll take you around four. With breaks to run to Facebook and quote random bits. Because it’s awesome.

Patrick Rothfuss is known for his hugely popular Kingkiller Chronicle, which follows the great gypsy bard/mage Kvothe as he brazenly fights through childhood trauma, homeless street-urchining, magical college, girls, royalty, and (hopefully) the Chandrian blue-flame demons with his own style of cleverness and stupidity, in turn. The books are brilliant.

But this isn’t that story. Continue reading

Why The Borderlands Pre-Sequel is Amazing (and Why It Isn’t)

See. He's in space. Unfortunately, you don't see a SINGLE instance of this guy in the game. Yep. Spoiler alert.

See. He’s in space. Unfortunately, you don’t see a SINGLE instance of this guy in the game. Yep. Spoiler alert.

A part of me wanted to curl up under the covers today, as I’m fighting a nasty throat cold that leaves all kinds of crusty unmentionables behind. But I must write about this!

I admit. I’m guilty of being a FPS (First Person Shooter) fan. I played the Call of Duty series waaay after it stopped being original and fun. I played Halo much the same way. In a perpetual search to find the Next Awesome Game, I spend way too much money (I don’t have) on games (I might not love. See: Destiny) partially because I love playing them with my game-loving brother, and partially… well. That’s all, really. Without him, I’d probably throw my XBOX out.

While it’s arguable that Borderlands: the Pre-Sequel is a FPS, (it could be an RPG, too), I’m sticking to my guns (puns!) on this. It is the third game in the series from Unreal-engined Gearbox and 2K Games, following four characters across the moon to save the space station Hyperion from a murderous purple-eyed (purple with Eridium that doesn’t exist in this game) general bent on destroying the entire planet. Furthermore, you’re helping the antagonist from the second game, and it feels okay.

My thoughts?

Continue reading

Scrivener

I recently had the opportunity to purchase this writing assist tool, and after spending most of the day fiddling around with it, I’ve decided to give my thoughts on the whole program.

To start, for anyone who does not know what Scrivener is, it’s a writing-assist program used to keep a sometimes overwhelming amount of information and work in file-style order. With a plethora of templates and styles, it’s a program dedicated to larger writing projects such as novel-writing, textbook creation, screenplay-writing, etc. I spent over an hour reading the step-by-step how-to “project” simply to understand the nuances of the program.

I’m a fiction novel writer, so I decided to use it exactly how it explains I should: a folder for each chapter, a text file for each scene in said chapter, and synopses to keep everything labeled correctly. I placed all my characters in their own character sheets under the “characters” file and my scenery/languages/countries of note under the “settings” file. I uploaded my cover image, the “front matter” and “back matter” for the novel, and even took the time to label each character with its own color. That being said, after I finished all of my filing, I can honestly say…

If you are a writer, this will slow you down.

On the other hand, if you want to be a published author, this will expedite and speed the process immensely. Let me explain what I mean. It’s a handful of busywork. Every scene for every chapter split into each text file, each chapter in its own folder, is exasperating. I can’t stand it. Give me a word file, a big one, and I’ll fill it right up as I work. I don’t have to step out of the “zone” and click new folder, click new scene every time I start a new chapter.

Now. If your novel is finished, I highly recommend you plug the whole thing in, step by step, because ABSOLUTELY everything is at your fingertips. Chapter 6, scene 4? You know, the one where your protagonist hangs over a pit of punji spikes while a board of trustees deliberates her future on a conference call? Yeah. Mistype, paragraph six. Boom. Managed. Click, click, click. Done. Passive verb use in chapter 15, scene two, where that airplane WAS falling to where that lake used to be, before the villain evaporated it. That darn thing fell. Fell right down to the salty depths of a… ravine. I guess.

And what was that secondary character’s name? You know? The one from Chapter 1, scene 3? Yeah. His reappearance in chapter twelve REALLY needs to coincide with his ACTUAL name. Click characters. Click Darnell. Managed.

What I’m saying is, for casual writers, this program will possibly add to the distractions. Write your shit and make it hit. Worry about where it goes, and how it works, in the editing process. BUT ONCE YOU’RE THERE? Hit this program up. Please. You’ll thank me for it.

With a price tag somewhere around 45 bucks, it’s much more affordable than a few other programs, namely Microsoft Word (which bundles with other programs to be somewhere around 100 dollars, if you’re lucky). I like it, especially if you can find a deal on it (like I did).

Also: Composition mode. Love it. Not the first program to offer a “blur all your crap on your desktop out so you can sit and actually write” screen, but certainly something Word doesn’t understand. As well, at least.

Scrivener also offers track changes features, post-it notes, cork boards for visual scene layout, outline protocol, all sorts of fun extras. If you’re like me, that stuff simply slows you down. If you’re as anal retentive as some (very amazing) people I’ve met, it might be that little piece of something something that allows you to actually write your memoir. Either way, I recommend you look into it. Novice or advanced alike.

~x

Book Review: The City’s Son, Tom Pollock

Pollock recreates Urban Fantasy as a tangible, palpable thing. Forget werewolves. Forget Vampires. The city is alive.

A year ago I decided to take some random blogger’s advice (probably someone very important, but I can’t remember who said it) and take an active effort in getting to know the UF market. I had never shot in the dark before, concerning debut novels, so it’s a pretty big deal I stepped out with Mr. Pollock. (Mr. Pollock, if you ever read this, you’re my first first novel, meaning I bought it entirely on faith.)

I knew the novel before it was published, back when the old cover looked like a Teen Romance between a shirtless character and a fathomless, powerful damsel. Thankfully the cover changed, and is all the more impressive because of it (I believe someone up the pecking order realized this was a special novel, perhaps a cut above the rest, and they wanted the cover to reflect that).

I don’t do “Fanboy” very well: the book either speaks for itself, or it doesn’t, and while I stepped into the novel expecting Young Adult writing, I also expected it to have flair and connect with me, a 20something writer with his own ideas of good writing. This is a coming-of-age novel.

This novel has succeeded in every way the author hoped, and then some. Yes, I hate to say it, but I am, officially, a Pollock fanboy.

Overview (spoilers): Beth is a spunky, rudderless teen with no parental figures and a flair for graffiti. Her best friend snitches on her (through incredible, violent coersion by a teacher) and Beth, betrayed, runs away into the stormy London night. She falls down the metaphoric rabbit hole to find Filius, a boy that literally lives off the city. He’s strong, fast, violent, and animalistic. He destroys an attacking train with a spear, like some incredible phallic symbol, and they trade macho stories about who saved whom. An instant match.

Beth finds out 1) Filius is the son of a goddess, 2) a great evil god is erupting from the city’s construction sites, and 3) Filius is waiting for his mother to return and kick the god’s butt. Beth takes up the fight, gives him a backbone through trust and courage, and he, in turn, believes in her. Rich violence, passion, fighting ensues to carry the momentum of the book through. Not gratuitous; creative violence.

I generally read a novel and search for the areas of insight, of passion on the writer’s part. I look for areas that the writer thought important enough to flesh out thoroughly, and therefore connect to the writer through this format. Where I found the most connection, and perhaps the author’s point of conception, is in this quote:

“Our memories are like a city: we tear some structures down, and we use rubble of the old to raise up new ones. Some memories are bright glass, blindingly beautiful when they catch the sun, but then there are the darker days, when they reflect only the crumblingwalls of their derelict neighbors. Some memories are buried under years of patient construction; their echoing halls may never again be seen or walked down, but still they are the foundations for everything that stands above them.

“Glas [character] told me once that that’s what people are, mostly: memories, the memories in their own heads, and the memories of them in other people’s. And if memroies are like a city, and we are our memories, then we are like cities too. I’ve always taken comfort from that.”

With that quote in mind, all of this work is fleshed out: from Beth’s best friend Parva to descriptions of the fantastical characters and a very real, very lethal evil. I’ve never visited London but I feel it, truly feel it, in this book. Every scene feels alive. Every character feels motivated, special, passionate. In fact, there are so few flat characters (in opposition to round) that I was honestly quite surprised. Everyone finds a voice, and I can’t say anything besides Pollock was inspired by all of it. Not an easy feat. I’m quite impressed.

The sense of loss in this novel is striking for a YA. Very real, very lovable characters die. Innocent characters are tortured. The expanse of emotion in this novel is, well, expansive. I’ve read several reviews on this book, and every one of them said it was too graphic for a YA. I disagree. Too many YA novels are sparse on details, fluffy, and unrealistic. This novel hits hard, hits often, and the promise of death and pain comes with every decision the characters make–as it should.

There is no notion of good vs. evil in this book, and in that point alone, it is a rare gem of writing. Both sides are complex and ultimately self-serving: they want to survive. It’s literally a jungle. (A more appropriate theme would be fight vs. flight: when does one draw a line in the sand to abide another’s survival?)

The philosophy some of these characters have is phenomenal: many Eastern ideas (reincarnation, buddhist beliefs, and especially those surrounding the “evil” Reach, the Crane God) are melded inconspicuously with Greek mythology (Filius is likened to Achilles, a mortal son of a goddess) and, of course, fantasy elements like elementals, primal animals/totems, and metal-scaffolding-molded wolves. I tasted inspiration from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere throughout, with Pollock’s flair for the light thrown in the mix.

The book never lets up. It builds and flexes, crescendos and crashes and ebbs and flows.

The cons are few and far-between. I wished for consistent narration: switching from third person limited past tense for Beth to first person present tense for Filius created jarring stop-motion for me. Maybe it’s just a personal pet peeve, but I didn’t like its execution. The Lord of the Rings freak in me wanted thousands of unique creatures. I wanted a city teeming. It was filled, yes, but the number of perhiphery creatures/characters were too blurred for my tastes.

Like most writers, myself included, scope is difficult to expand past a certain point, namely when explaining war between two armies. All in all, in the end, the war between Reach and Filius had, give-or-take, around 300 souls on Filius’ side and, if I read it correctly, around 150 on Reach’s side (although Reach’s armies had reconstructing capabilities, so some of them were used repeatedly). For a place as large as London, this war seemed small.

I wanted more involvement from the Mirrors. All I’ll say about that. They seemed to be a clever twist that Pollock didn’t quite know what to do with, even though (or possibly because of) Reach’s compound was wall-to-wall mirrored surfaces. The war could possibly have been won simply by marching the Mirrors on Isengard, I mean, St. Pauls.

In many places this book read almost like a Sci-fi novel: in retrospect, I can’t imagine how it couldn’t, given London is modern and filled with tech. For Pollock to leave that detail out would be to sever one dimension of the story. This isn’t a gripe, moreso a warning. The descriptions can be a little complex.

This is the first book of 3. I can only speculate as to where the next book will take the reader.

Overall I give it a 5 of 5. An incredible debut novel from an incredible writer. I have no doubt he will be around (if he so chooses) in the writing world for a long time to come. My nitpicks are tiny compared to the overall story, and I can’t recommend this book enough.

Movie Review: Dark Knight Rises

Apologies for the  scattered posts. Still in transition. Still no internet at the apartment.

The Dark Knight, with Heath Ledger’s final acting role, is probably my favorite super hero movie ever. Ledger captured a Joker I didn’t believe possible. But this isn’t about that movie. It’s about the next one.

Note: anyone who hasn’t seen the movie, and wishes to, please do not read this. It details the movie and will ruin many surprises.

Quick overview with a few spoilers: Bruce Wayne shoved the Batman persona in the closet after his  girlfriend blew up, and for eight years he’s locked himself in his manor. Catwoman comes along and steals his mother’s pearls (and his fingerprints) and Bruce goes on an investigation. Long story short, Bruce has an admirer in a Gotham Police officer, Catwoman plays a part in framing Bruce for selling Wayne Enterprises, and Bane, some Luchadore-looking british dude ends up taking over Gotham. Oh, and Bane steals almost all of Batman’s stuff.

Side note: Christopher Nolan, director of all three of these Batman movies, is also the director of Inception, a clever, limited-view movie about hacking–and stealing information from–dreams. He has no interest in directing any more Batman-universe movies.

Plot: Complex. Lagging in pace. Most of this movie is setup for Bane and Wayne’s lagging sense of interest for the community. He has given up, and Nolan picks up the daunting task of re-igniting Batman’s flame. Unfortunately, consistency issues abound. At the beginning of the movie, Wayne is walking with a cane and a limp, which is fixed by some kind of undetectable hydraulic brace, and then disappears for the rest of the movie. As the viewer, you’re expected to forget he ever had the limp in the first place, and assume Bane doesn’t do anything with the brace after a *cough* encounter. The Bane backstory is holed from the start–an astute observer will notice they said Bane’s face was irrevocably disfigured, while the individual escaping the pit has face intact. Nolan tried–and failed–to sell details about some mystery aspects of Bane’s background.

Characterization: Wayne is consistently emo, self-destructive. Alfred is insightful and harried, as usual. Hathaway was a terrible choice for Catwoman–she had the look, I guess, but exhibited a “Princess Diaries” princess-to-pauper mentality. She acted as if she wanted to return to somewhere she once was and had grown envious of not having it. She didn’t have the physical flexibility required for the part, which led to closeup shots of her legs above her head, and although she was suitably cold and dedicated to petty thievery, she shared absolutely no chemistry with Wayne. Wayne wanted to fix her. She wanted to get away with as much as she could. Blah. Neither had interest in each other, personally. Drake, the police officer, stole the show: having dedicated himself to the “protect and serve” mentality, followed orders even though, repeatedly, he disagreed with them. Commissioner Gordon also gave an incredible performance, as usual: pragmatic, charismatic, wily. Finally, Bane  exemplified an intellectual evil sitting almost exactly opposite of Joker. Where Joker created the chaos he believed in, Bane created obsessive order and totalitarianism.

Also, Evil Villain Girl death was laughably overdramatic.

Setting: I sat in front of a father/son duo that belched, farted, screeched laughter, and bellowed pseudointellectual commentary throughout the movie. Wait, movie setting: Gotham is cold, its people a direct social commentary on American, and perhaps Western society as a whole: rich people trying to remove wealth/power from the poor; dedicated, hardworking people being replaced by Good Ol’ Boys; Bane’s uprising striking surprisingly similar to an Occupy Wall Street gone terribly militant. With all that said, Nolan still failed to pound the notion home. While Bane was suitably extreme in his reaction to the oppression of a lethargic government, his means to control (Wayne Enterprises’ nuclear fission project) was a little over the top, even for my taste. Any sympathy I garnered for Bane, which had been developing over the course of the movie, dissipated when the execution of his intent fizzled. Five months of patrolling the streets in batcars and “judging” the wealthy in an ad hoc mock courtroom ran stale, fast. After taking power, Bane did nothing but sit around for five months, feeling dispairingly like an over-the-top plot device to allow Wayne to recover and return. Even to the end I felt the whole city existed in a societal bubble, where the rest of the world didn’t exist and Gotham had turned into a microcosmal America. The United States wouldn’t allow a terrorist to hold an atomic bomb over the heads of an entire city for five months. That just isn’t how it works. Bane, if he was so intelligent, wouldn’t stand around for five months “torturing” Wayne by showing the city Hope.

This movie tied off all the loose ends, in the end, and completes the trilogy nicely. It accomplished what it set out to do. This movie is in no way as good as The Dark Knight, and perhaps even not as good as the first movie, Batman Begins. Overall, I’d give it a 2.5 out of 5. Middle of the road. Probably won’t watch it again (in comparison to The Dark Knight, which I’ve seen, oh, about fifty times).