Book Love

Posts about books I’ve read

Queering AI (Part Three of Three)

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“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

If you know your Science Fiction, and maybe even if you don’t, you recognize the iconic line from the HAL 9000 in Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey. HAL was the artificial intelligence who, while incredibly smart, was driven to violence by the directives provided by his human creators.

Artificial intelligence is a staple of science fiction, and it’s a trope that enables writers to examine what it means to be human, what it means to create life and what our responsibility to that life we create actually is. And further, it enables us to tell stories about what that life might want to do to us in return.

There have been brilliant examples of stories in the AI genre. Colossus: The Forbin Project is a terrifying vision of what could happen if the tools of war are handed over to a machine intelligence designed to make war more efficient. The Terminator, with all it’s lean savagery, is another take on what happens when the machines come online and want control. (more…)

Queerness is Never the Problem (Part Two of Three)

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Other than in my first attempt at novel writing, which we shall speak of no more, for it is legendary in its awfulness, I write queer characters. They aren’t all queer, but my heroes are. The whole raison d’etre of both my standalone novel, Chasing Cold, and my Maverick Heart series is to write the kind of heroes I loved growing up, but make them unapologetic in whatever flavour of queerness they called their own.

In the early days of what would eventually become Soul’s Blood, I submitted to a press in Edmonton run by Candas Jane Dorsey. As it turned out, I was going to be in town, and she very graciously took me to lunch and gave me feedback on my very early efforts. And one of her comments formed a cornerstone of how the novel and series would grow.

In the initial incarnations, Keene and Daevin were initially forced apart because Daevin’s father was bothered by Daevin being in love with a man. It was the late eighties/early nineties when the novel was first conceived and I was living in a city where there were no Pride celebrations, no businesses that specifically targeted the queer community, other than the one gay bar. In many ways, we still lived our lives in shadow. (more…)

Space Opera Love (Part One of Three)

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I have loved Space Opera since I was three.

That was when the original Star Trek series aired on one of the only two channels that were available in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada in 1966, and it was something we, as a family watched. I remember my mother being certain that the sight of one alien in the closing credits (Balok from The Corbomite Maneuver) would scare me too much, so she charged my sisters with distracting me so I wouldn’t see it.

Of course, when I finally did, I wasn’t bothered at all.

Star Trek truly entered my consciousness in the Seventies during first run syndication after school. When I rediscovered it, I would race home and hope it was one I hadn’t seen yet. Not that it mattered. I watched them over and over, poring over every detail, memorizing the look, the ideas, the performances. I tried over and over to build the Enterprise with my Lego. And this was back in the day when there weren’t any specially shaped blocks, just flat bits, rectangles and squares. My love for the show just continued to grow. (more…)

When is a book not a book?

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No, it’s not a riddle.

I admit to being a recent convert to ebooks. Before I went on a trip in the summer, I bought a Kobo and loaded it up. Catching up in reading was part of the vacation plan and I can read a lot when I have a good chunk of time to devote to it.  It made a lot more sense to carry a small electronic device than a suitcase full of books.

While I was home, I was able to meet up with an old friend from my university days, who is now an academic and professor and we got into a discussion about books and my recent conversion. Her sister used to run a very hip and eclectic bookstore. While we were talking, I managed to articulate my position for the first time.

I love books. I love them as physical manifestations of ideas. I love the feel of them in my hands and the look of them on my shelf, knowing I can pick up one of my favourites and read it any time.

But a book, to me, is more than pages or paper or leather binding. As much as I love books, I love stories more. To me, a book is a vehicle for a story. What matters to me most are the words, the characters; where the writer takes me. The narrative means more to me than the fact that is printed on paper and bound in a leather cover.

I believe the ideas are what matter, not the form.

There are good stories in books, on audio, in ebooks, on TV and in theatres.

I respect anyone who loves books, and yes, I admit to being vaguely distrustful of anyone who doesn’t read. I was raised with books and can’t understand how anyone couldn’t love them.

But, again, it’s the stories and ideas that mean the most to me, not the format. If you presented me with an amazing story on a papyrus scroll, I’d be down with that.

I love my Kobo and the convenience that it brings me. I love that I can stick it in my bag and read on my lunch at work or on the streetcar to and from. I like that it’s a light, convenient way for me to carry around ideas and stories. I especially like that when I am close to the end of one book, I don’t have to carry a second one to start when I’m done.

And, as a writer, in pure, unadulterated self interest, I’m glad that there are more ways that I can get my stories out there to be read.

 

The Ship Who Sang by Anne McCaffrey

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This book is a classic, hands down. I read this the first time in my teen heyday of science fiction when I was reading Starlog and burying myself in comics and all the SF I could get my hands on. I think the copy on my shelf is the one I bought all those years ago. It’s one of those stories I can pick up and lose myself in any time.

Helva is born with severe physical disabilities, to the point that she would be unable to survive. In this world, the option is there for her to become a shell person. The body is encased in a shell with deep neural connections. Once inside, the shellperson can become one with and run any number of buildings, cities or, in Helva’s case, a ship. She becomes one with an interstellar ship and partnered with a “Brawn” to her “Brain” She enjoys a freedom she could never have in her original physical form.

The Ship Who Sang is a collection of stories about Helva, illuminating different aspects of her life and world. There is a sweetness to these stories, almost a fairy tale feel. There is heart and genuine emotion, and Helva is a character who is easy to love. Whenever I read this book, I feel like I am visiting an old friend.

There are some disability activists who have argued against the book and the concept and I can see the point. But I also think there’s a difference between presenting a world in which something happens and actually endorsing that something should happen. I think SF exists to show what could be, and take us into a world, and the implications of what exists therein.

This book isn’t about the ethics of whether this could or should be done. It’s a look inside a wonderfully written character with strength and heart and charm. It’s the kind of story that says “Regardless of whether or not this should happen, in this case, it is wondrous”

And wondrous this book is.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

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Finished the last Hunger Games book this week. Had derailed on reading a bit and it sat there a while, through no fault of the book itself.

This is a worthy end to this trilogy, taking Katniss’ story in a new direction, showing her struggle in a new light, shifting the face of her enemies, bringing her full circle in a way. And, surprisingly for a YA novel, not without a brutal cost. Throughout these books, I’ve been impressed by the darkness and hard edges. This story believes that young adults are capable of handling these issues and themes without any condescension on the part of the author.

Even the resolution of the love triangle is bittersweet, feeling not like Edward/Bella drivel, but like two characters emerging from the dark and trying to figure out how to go on.

There are plenty of gripping twists and action, as well as a worthy and believable continuation of a fascinating main character with depth and flaws.

I highly recommend these books.

Facebook and The Filter Bubble

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Anyone who uses Facebook knows that they rolled out a redesign this week and there are more changes coming. The usual round of high dudgeon followed, though people (myself included) don’t actually stop using it.

I have reduced my usage though. I don’t log in as often or spend as much time on there. Mostly because the “Top News” has taken the place of the old, chronological News Feed, and this goes against how I use FB and how I want to use it. I like the plain old, unfiltered stream of updates and likes and such. I can control it. I can keep or rid myself of whatever I don’t want to read. And there were a few people that I removed because their posts or their tone or whatever bothered me. But the control was in my hands.

Not so much any more. I’m at the mercy of the mysterious, unknowable Facebook algorithm that has decided who I am and what I want to see. .

I recently read The Filter Bubble, by Eli Pariser which is a fascinating look at the realities and possibilities of too much web personalization. I highly recommend it for anyone concerned about websites deciding what we want to see.

We all need to realize that on Facebook, we are not the customers. We’re the product. Facebook couldn’t give a hooping funt about connecting us to each other and allowing us to share. They want us using the service so they can harvest our information and sell it and us to their advertisers. At this point, for most of us, our buy in to FB is so strong that it’s hard to get free. But that’s the only way. Writing bitchy status updates won’t affect anything. Sending them complaints won’t affect anything. The only thing that will affect them is logging in less. Clicking less. Staying away until their numbers drop. The only thing that will effect any change will be to hurt their bottom line with advertisers.

I doubt I could give it up completely. I have an author page there, and I’m mercenary enough to know that I need that presence if I’m going to market myself and my book in the new year. But I log in less and less to keep track of my friends, because I have no idea if I’m seeing what they’re doing, because I have no idea what the algorithm is keeping from me. And that defeats the purpose for me.

I’m on Google+ and I like it a lot, but there aren’t nearly as many people there. They buy in just hasn’t happened yet. Which is unfortunate, as there, I can control what I see from others and what others see of me. I’m not at the mercy of software rules that are being kept from me.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

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Just finished the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire. A most worthy follow-up. Collins finds a story that is a logical follow-up to her original novel, but manages to add new wrinkles and tell a plausible, and pretty thrilling continuation of the story. The ending came as a genuine surprise to me, though once I got there, I realized it was the only direction things could have gone, which, I think is a hallmark of a well told story. You know, that feeling that everything makes perfect sense based on what you’ve read. On top of that, she leaves the door wide open for the third book, Mockingjay (which I dove right into as soon as finished CF).

Still more Team Gale/Team Peeta stuff, but she’s managing to keep me guessing as to which way Katniss will go.

Another very good read and well worth the time. Katniss is fascinating, well rounded character: resourceful, brave and determined at times, and yet obtuse about many things and full of believable flaws. Collins keeps her on the right side of being utterly annoying, and yet, the character feels rounded and interesting to read.

Can’t wait to see how the trilogy plays out.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

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This was initially recommended to my by my friend, Colleen, as a good read. Then I heard it referred to as the new Twilight, which did not bode well. But then my friend, Sharon, referred to it as the Smarter Twilight, which seemed a better recommendation.

It’s a great concept: in a post apocalyptic future, The Capitol is surrounded by 12 Districts. Every year, each district must send two of their children, one male, one female, between the ages of 12 and 18 to participate in the Hunger Games, a fight to the death. It’s a great, and disturbing, idea and it makes for a great jumping off point, and the novel lives up to it for the most part.

Because it’s a YA novel, the brutality of the concept is soft pedaled somewhat. Most of the deaths happen off screen, except for one notable exception that is a pivotal moment for the POV character. I couldn’t help thinking it would have been nice to see the concept handled for an adult audience, so it could really explore in detail the horror of making teens fight to the death. Other than that, my only other quibble with the story is a bit too much Team Edward/Team Jacob style emotional hand-wringing.

Those things aside, the book was an exciting read that kept me interested and has me now reading the second book, which further explores the universe. The YA writing style makes them easy reads and the characters are engaging. Worth a read.

 

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

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Devoured this book over a weekend. Exciting and chilling in so many ways. It takes a familiar theme of an AI taking over the world and gives it a fresh new spin by making the weapons the AI uses very familiar and close to the modern uses of robotic technology. The armageddon comes in the form of objects we use all the time and think nothing about, which makes them all the more frightening.

Wilson structures the novel as a series of stories from different points of view, meticulously recorded by Archos, the rogue AI, interpreted and told by a man in the aftermath of the war. It’s an unconventional structure that really works, taking us from scene to scene in a way that no single POV character could have done, yet maintaining some familiarity in the voice through Cormac.

Cannot recommend this book highly enough.

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