Friday, September 28, 2007

Alone, In the Dark

Nope, nothing about the video game here. Musing on two books: The link goes to a Froogle search for Elizabeth Moon's The Speed of Dark, the 2002 Nebula winner, but I also want to talk about "Party of One: The Loner's Manifesto"

I don't remember where I first read about Party of One (called PO1 from now on or else I'd end up calling it POO, that's just not right). It's less of a manifesto than a rant in places, but it's an interesting read. I've always called myself a loner, but I'm not as far off the social path as Anneli Rufus, the author. I've belonged to clubs, a sports team (well, fencing is a solo sport, so I barely count that), and was an avid role-playing gamer, which requires social interaction (but see below). PO1 is adamant about the differences between Loners, who seek solitude, and Outcasts, who are thrown into solitude. Loners aren't the serial killers, terrorists, etc. -- they (we?) just don't care enough about other people to want to hurt them. It takes a broken social structure to cause that kind of pain. But I want to give this book to my mother, who keeps thinking that I need to be more social, that I need to change. Well, to paraphrase Ms Rufus, I no more need to be a social person than a bird needs lips.

Thinking about the role-playing: It's a social interaction that lets me be not myself, to interact with people in a way that doesn't reflect people's perceptions of me, but of my character. It's a way to be other than my loner self. A similar concept is often mentioned about the Japanese fascination with karaoke -- it permits a salaryman to socialize with a boss, to escape class and social structrure. Kinda nifty.

PO1 also talks a bit about autism - which translates to self-ism, of course. Which brings me back to The Speed of Dark, a novel following the life of an autistic man -- high functioning, near-genius, given the chance to change. Now I know I'm not autistic, or even Aspergers, but I'm enough of a loner, and sharing some characteristics of those classed as "gifted" to understand some of the situations: intolerant of noises, sometimes socially inappropriate, not liking changes in routine or being touched -- this character touched me. It's more than that, though, the book is outstanding. Unlike, say Flowers for Algernon, Lou, the main character, isn't mentally impaired. His viewpoint is quite different from mine (evoking such SF themes as C.J. Cherryh's alien minds or her vat-grown Azi), and his quite-different viewpoints of life and the universe are poetic in places.

It's a strange book, Lou's speech is stilted, the tech is uneven for an SF book (things such as "personality chips" for criminals are dropped in suddenly). But I have no doubt it's one of the best of its year, or the decade. There's a desperation to the character, to know himself, to try to understand the world that's full of metaphors that don't fit his mind. It's a book that sat on my shelf for quite a long timne, I'm glad I finally got around to it.

The title is the character's puzzle: Is dark faster than light, since darkness, ignorance, are always there first, before light gets there? It becomes a recurring theme in the book, explring what's out there:
The light rushes into the pupil of my eye, carrying with it the information
that is within range of my vision, carrying with it the world, but what I see
when I look at where the light goes in is blackness, deep and velvety.
Light goes in and darkness looks back at me. The image is in my eye and in my
brain, as well as in the mirror.

This gap between knowledge and un-knowing, light and dark, returns again and again, to a most satisfying conclusion I won't give away.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Nothing like DIY to Simplify Your World

The (cough) New AT&T's new motto is "Simplify Your World".
Nothing simpler to motivate you than lack of service.

I had a very loud hum show up on my two land lines the other day out of the blue. AT&T's customer support was friendly and courteous... but said it could be two weeks before they got out to look at my line, and if it did turn out to be internal, it would be a $70 charge.

Tha's motivation for ya -- I could barely hear her due to the 60-cycle hum, didn't want to deal with it for two weeks, didn't want to pay $70, so I took one of the few non-cordless phones out to the interface box. Darn -- it's on my side, no hum when I plug straight in.

So it's time to do the usual crap -- unplug phones one at a time until I find the one that's causing the hum. It's the living room one with the cordless and the answering machine. Not good, I don't want to buy a new one. Also, is it the phone or the wires? Plugging another phone in showed no problem... good. Now it's the cable or the phone. Plugging a different cable into the same phone and I'm OK. But it's only a short cable, I need another one. I've got dozens of phone cords in the house of two varieties: short ones with four or six wires (just fine for the two-line phone), and longer ones with two wires (only good for a single-line phone), which probably all came with various phones and other devices that connect to phones like TiVo etc.

C'mon, guys, four wires on phones has been a standard for decades -- why get so cheap over two more strands of copper?

Anyway, back in business.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


My wife and I caught Daywatch on Tueday night. The Tribune had an ad on Friday for a free screening if you send them an email with a description of what "superpower" you'd want -- as if this was a Heroes rip-off, and not a deathly cool Russian mythic Matrix, the sequel to 2004's Nightwatch. If you haven't seen Nightwatch, there's a 10-second recap, but really, go out and rent or buy the DVD (and watch it subtitled -- it's worth it for the animated titles).

As a sequel, it pays off very nicely, and wraps up the story started in Nightwatch -- which is strange in itself, since they're supposed to be making a third movie, in English, filmed in the US. While some of the Eastern European myth-feel is missing (Nightwatch's magic felt like folktales transported to grimy Moscow), the action and special effects are amped up, without losing a rich complex story with vibrant characters. The leaders of the Light and Dark, Gesser and Zevulon, are bitter enemies that most of the time behave like two guys that have been playing chess in the park together for 1000 years. The Dark is sometimes warmer and friendlier than the Light (and generally better dressed, Zevulon's fuzzy blue housecoat and track pants notwithstanding).
In this movie, Svetlana (or Sveta) and Yegor are being trained to be the next "Great Others" of the light and dark, respectively, meanwhile mysterious murders are occurring, killing a couple of Dark Others and framing the weary hero of both films, Anton. To hide him from prosecution by the Daywatch (the Dark Others that police the actions of the Light), he switches bodies with Olga (the woman who was trapped as an owl from the first flick). This provides a nice bit of humor, but ultimately doesn't contribute much to the plot (see below for how this relates to the original book). Meanwhile, there's an ongoing quest for the Chalk of Fate which Tamerlane used to rewrite any mistakes he made throughout his life.

The flim climaxes at a birthday party in the Kosmos Hotel, where Yegor's power comes into play destroying most of Moscow in some amazing effects work -- and I'm not giving much away here, because the resolution, while you can see it coming, is elegant and smoothly done.
That's not to say everything's smooth. It looks like some bits of script or film didn't make it to our eyes: a tearful character trying to bring back to life someone she barely knows makes no sense without what I'm guessing is an excised very steamy scene, and an aborted trip to Samarkand seems like the director didn't know where he wanted the story to go.
And what of that book I mentioned? This film covers much of the second half of the book called "Nightwatch" (although there is also a book for Daywatch, it covers further stories). The general plot of this movie is very different, mainly because of how the first film diverged. As I said before, the body switching was originally done to hide Anton, but the Dark Others see through that immediately in the flick. Other elements come through perfectly, such as mysterious murders with a wooden knife, training of the Great Others, second levels of Gloom... but this is a very separate story. The director and actors have put together a terrific film with deep characters you wouldn't expect from an action flick. Go see it.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Cyberpunk old and new

Just got finished reading the reprinted John Shirley's City Come a Walkin'.
The intro by William Gibson makes it sound like this is the germ of cyberpunk, the real deal, the font from which the whole Movement came.

I'm not buying it. I enjoyed the book, but to me, it read more like splatterpunk than cyberpunk. The cyber element is laughable -- it's an ATM network run by the mob. That's it. Oh, and it's got a character with mirrorshades. Truly, it's just a horror story with some SF elements (that ATM network making cash obsolete, autopiloted cars, and some out-of-nowhere telepathy).

It's definitely punk: one of the common features between Cyberpunk and Splatterpunk is violation of the self, transformation or transgressive action. We've certainly got that. And "angst rock" features strongly, another hallmark of the punk movements.

On the other hand, I read C.J. Cherryh's Hammerfall recently... and I think she got the point of Cyberpunk. Sure, it's a Cherryh book, with its tone and attitude, but it's got some truly cyberpunk elements: most of the main characters have a "tap" -- a nanotech implant to communicate directly mind to mind. The main character, Procyon, has the defining violation and transformation. Fashion plays a major role for a number of characters (there was a bit of fashion in Shirley's book too, mostly involving bare breasts). It was refreshing to read an author with a take on the cyber sub-genre, and quite a twist on its predecessor, Forge of God. I'm hoping there's a third book in this sequence, most likely hundreds of years later, just like this one was versus FoG.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Passion? Passion! and Creation!!!!

I don't normally blog about blogging... I barely blog at all on the grand scheme of things. But if anybody is reading this who doesn't read blogs all over the place, follow the link, and make sure to read some of the other posts on Creating Passionate Users.

Everything I know about marketing, I learned from Kathy's posts.
She's brilliant, and can communicate her brilliance to others. That's rare, special and we need people like her writing free stuff for us to read.

And somebody threatens her violence? I can't imagine a reason why. I've never read anything on her site that disparages anyone in particular (certainly bad ways of doing things, but never anything singled out). So what's to hate? Just because you can sit at a keyboard? Just for the sake of allegedly free speech? This is terrorism. Homeland security should be after this scum.

If they can catch this piece of garbage that claims to be human, with luck whoever locks him up will drop a note that he (I'm picking a gender statistically here) prefers little girls. That might be justice.

Come back Kathy! Keep writing. Or the terrorists win.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Singularity Sky - Charles Stross

Wow, it's been a while since I've posted about what I've read.

Latest is Singularity Sky by Charles Stross. I've read a few things by him now (Accelerando, Glasshouse, The Family Trade) and he's got quite a range. Accelerando may be a bit of a tough read for some -- the wonky stuff comes fast and hard, but Singularity Sky is more approachable, its subversion hidden in a very Weber-ish mil-SF/space opera frame.

A couple of spies (working as a diplomat and an engineer) at not-cross purposes aboard a baroque starship en route to rescue a planet turned post-industrial overnight makes for a fun read. Art critics, Marxists, aged Admirals, and ultra-high tech crisscross nicely. Oh yeah, and a love story.

I wonder whether the space opera is homage or parody with his subversive streak (self-propelling luggage may be another homage to Pratchett, dunno).

So go read already... while I see if I can get a cheap copy of the sequel, Iron Sunrise.