The Winner Takes It All

September 24th, 2017 01:54 pm
redheadedfemme: (Sarah Connor badass)
[personal profile] redheadedfemme
Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill

5 of 5 stars

This book definitely falls into what I would define as High Concept. It can be summed up in one sentence: "What happens after Skynet/the Terminators/the Cylons win the war?" 
 
No, folks, there isn't a plucky band of humans who defeat the machines. When this book opens, the war has been over for thirty years, and humans have been extinct for fifteen. (Although that sounds a bit suspect to me--there's no one left in the heart of the Amazon jungle? In the Himalayas? In the far north of Siberia? Maybe if there's a sequel, we'll find out.) That's part of what makes this book so unique: all the characters (except in the flashbacks) are robots. They're built by humans, of course, programmed to serve humans, and thus have a great deal of human-like behavior. But in the end they are artificial intelligences--alien beings--and in many subtle ways, this book makes that clear. They have their own culture, history and world.
 
C. Robert Cargill is apparently also a screenwriter, and I can see a rough three-act structure in the way this novel is written. The first third of the book introduces the characters and begins the worldbuilding; the second act is a little quieter, allowing for quite a few philosophical debates about the nature of intelligence and free will; and the third act starts with a jaw-dropping reveal of backstory which turns everything our protagonists thought they understood about themselves and their world on its head. From there the tension and action is ramped up mercilessly, as our plucky, 'scuse me, grumpy and cynical band of robots faces off against one of two OWIs, "One World Intelligences" (just think of them as competing species of Borg, if you're into Star Trek) seeking to assimilate any remaining "freebots." Cargill's prose is clean and straightforward, and he damn sure knows his way around a firefight. (I don't know if this book has been optioned for film, but I wouldn't be surprised. Although the amount of CGI that would be required to film this story--since it would be kind of hard to use human actors, except for the sexbots--would be unimaginable.)
 
I've seen some people complaining about the flashback chapters, but I really liked them. Since this story turns the man vs. machine trope on its head, we need to know how we got here, and Cargill delivers. These chapters also illuminate our main character, Brittle, a caregiver bot struggling to survive, who is reduced to cannibalizing her fellow robots for parts. (Yeah, they think of themselves as male and female, mostly because they were assigned gender by their previous owners. This also highlights a limitation of the English language, as it would be hard to have a whole book of characters calling each other "it.") Brittle has a very nice character arc in this book, developing from a cynical, selfish scavenger to a badass willing to sacrifice her existence for a chance to defeat the OWIs. 
 
This is just a damn good story, and the philosophical and ethical underpinnings are the icing on the cake. 

The Fire Next Time

September 24th, 2017 01:42 pm
redheadedfemme: (Default)
[personal profile] redheadedfemme
Brimstone by Cherie Priest

Cherie Priest wrote one of my all-time favorite books in Maplecroft--the story of the infamous Lizzie Borden wielding her axe against slithery, slimy Lovecraftian horrors. Besides her real-life heroine, Priest wove an exquisite tapestry of real people and places. 
 
Now she's done it again with this book.
 
Brimstone is set in the real-life town of Cassadaga, Florida, the "Psychic Capital of the World," according to Wikipedia, and features its actual founding father, George Colby. (Although I doubt very much that gentleman really ran up against the hateful, witch-hunting, firestarting revenant pictured here.) The town is a character in itself, capturing the sights and smells and sticky subtropical heat of Florida wonderfully. (It sure doesn't make me want to live there, even before we get into the alligators and hurricanes.) Our two protagonists are Alice Dartle and Tomas Cordero, a budding medium and World War I veteran respectively. Alice heads to Cassadaga to liberate herself from her family, to stand on her own two feet and explore her psychic abilities:
 
I have some money, some education, and some very unusual skills--and I intend to learn more about them before I wear anybody's ring. If nothing else, I need to know how to explain myself. Any true love of mine would have questions. Why do I see other people's dreams? How do I listen to ghosts? By what means do I know which card will turn up next in a pack--which suit and which number will land faceup upon a table? How do I use those cards to read such precise and peculiar futures? And pasts?

I don't know, but I am determined to find out.
 
Tomas Cordero, on the other hand, is a damaged man, still trying to cope with his return from the war and the death of his wife. 
 
It never gets easier to say her name, but with practice and habit I can make it sound effortless. I can make it sound like I've fully recovered, scarcely a year since I came home from the front and they told me she was dead from the flu. She was buried in a grave with a dozen others, on the outside of town. Perhaps it was this grave, in this place--or maybe it was that grave, in some other quarter. No one was certain. So many graves had been dug, you see. So many bodies has filled them up, as fast as the shovels could dig. The whole world was crisscrossed with trenches and pits, at home and abroad. If the dead were not felled by guns, then they were swept away by illness.

It was just as well that I went to war. There was no safety in staying behind.
 
But when Tomas Cordero came back from the war, he brought something with him. Something dark and full of hate, that starts setting fires in the town where he lives. Something that Alice Dartle sees in her dreams. And when Tomas goes to Alice for help, he takes this something along with him, and unleashes it on Cassadaga. 
 
Tomas and Alice tell this story in alternating first-person viewpoint chapters. A writer has to have a good handle on her characters to pull this off, and Priest succeeds admirably. I particularly liked the fact that there was no romantic relationship between her two protagonists (though there is a hint of romance at the very end, between Alice and someone else). This allows both Tomas and Alice to have their own backstories, desires, and agency, and doesn't cast either one as dependent on the other or on their relationship for their presence in the narrative. Establishing both these people takes up a bit of space at the beginning of the book, which some readers might view as slow. I thought both characters were interesting enough that I didn't mind, and in any case when Tomas gets to Cassadaga the book picks up. 
 
In the end, this is a story about the power of love, and community, against the power of hate. It is a thoroughly delightful tale.

Thinking Out of the Box

September 14th, 2017 10:39 pm
lil_m_moses: (weekend home warrior)
[personal profile] lil_m_moses
I could also do something crazy and go to trade school for carpentry, or become a handyman. I enjoy working with my hands and being more active, and it's creative and mechanical and productive and can be detailed. I've long said I wanted to be a librarian and do fine carpentry when I retire. That would be a major lifestyle change, though, and a tough industry to get started in as a middle-aged woman (for reasons of both age and gender).

Oh! I just discovered that Houston has a hacker space with lots of classes, including woodworking and soldering! I might have to see about taking some. https://txrxlabs.org

EDIT: Orrr...hm. TC has at least 3 custom millwork shops. That might be a way to bridge engineering and get into woodworking. Can't hurt to try.

More Hurricane Tolls

September 14th, 2017 04:03 pm
lil_m_moses: (graves)
[personal profile] lil_m_moses
Oh, dear. One of Lillian's maternal great grandmothers, Gran Anne, passed away this morning. Her house, where e-Pa and YiaYia had also been living to care for her, got flooded for the first time ever during Harvey, despite it also being in the heavy flood zone for the last 2 big floods. They'd evacuated her via floating innertube to another son's house down the street, but all the upheaval of the last 2.5 weeks probably tipped her over the edge she'd been lingering near for a while. RIP, Anne. I'm glad both I and Lillian got a chance to know you a little.

Online Learning Advice?

September 14th, 2017 02:23 pm
lil_m_moses: (cyber)
[personal profile] lil_m_moses
Hey, Internetz!

If I wanted to take some free or cheap online courses in introductory programming to help me figure out if that's a potential career change (with reschooling) I should consider, are there particular programs you'd recommend? (I enjoy the problem solving aspect of what little I've done, but I do tend to yell at the computer a _lot_ in the process, which is why I hesitate.) I was just glancing at MIT's Open Courseware. I've heard of others like Coursera and Codecademy, and here's a little list with those and others. My background: I learned some Basic and LOGO as a kid in the dawn of PCs, struggled immensely to self-teach while completing honors calculus assignments in MATLAB in the early 90s, dabbled in class-taught FORTRAN '77 in the mid-90s for engineering courses, and have done a little VBA with Excel over the past decade (with a class to start). I have historically been able to figure out generally what code is doing by reading it. I played with LabVIEW a bit and found it pretty confusing, but I was slowly sorting it out.

Phooey

September 13th, 2017 05:04 pm
lil_m_moses: (The Party Pad)
[personal profile] lil_m_moses
Seems our sunken living room/bar does not qualify for my flood insurance coverage because it's classified as a basement: below grade and enclosed on all 4 sides. Dammit. I thought I'd read through the policy and found it not classed as a basement, but I think I was reading the homeowner's policy. Or something. Good to know. More impetus to just fill the damned thing in. Or suggest the next owners do so, or something. *sigh* Oh, and apparently the cost to add coverage for the sunken rooms would probably cost more than my entire current flood policy.

The adjuster said he'd put in something for cleanup costs for us, at least. But that wouldn't be more than our deductible, I don't think. And he suggested we look at FEMA stuff too (conveniently, my friend from CA just texted me this morning that he's in town helping FEMA and suggested the same).

But it's just flooring, thankfully, and stuff that was pretty old already (he noted that the carpet is high quality, which would explain why it looks so good after the 13 years I've owned the place and however long it was there before that (it was definitely not new...probably late '90s vintage, if I had to guess). He also opined that he'd pull out the bar cabinets too. Which, if we add concrete, would have to happen anyway. In the meantime, I need to talk to my insurance agent about adjusting my policy, if it's not going to cover some 20% of my house.

Just need one of us to get a job elsewhere, then we can move north and sell this place as-is, probably for about what I bought it for. =/

The Asses Below

September 13th, 2017 09:46 am
redheadedfemme: (cringeface)
[personal profile] redheadedfemme
The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis

3 of 5 stars

There were a couple of times when this book nearly met the wall, especially in the earlier chapters. One of the characters (unfortunately, the main POV character) is such a vain, obnoxious, sexist ass that he made the book very hard to read. That is my main knock against this book: why, when you have such a wonderful protagonist as Josette Dupre, the first female combat airship captain, would you choose to tell her story through the eyes of the entitled male "fop" who is actively working to bring her down? 
 
This seems to me to be wrong authorial decision. And while said "fop" does grow and change a bit through the book, and eventually comes to respect and support Josette, the entire narration of this novel just feels like a sadly missed opportunity. I would much rather have spent more time in Josette's head. What caused her to join the air corps, disguising herself as a man? What obstacles did she face to get to where she is? The topic of sexual harassment is notably glossed over in this book; one would think that should have been a major plot point, given the ongoing problems of integrating real-world armies. (Indeed, this book's supporting characters are poorly drawn and almost indistinguishable.) Instead, we have such irritating bits as Bernat's wanting Josette to "smile more" (AAARRGH! I hate that in real life, and I hate it more in my books). This just comes back to the fact that he is entirely the wrong viewpoint character for this book, and he almost sinks it. 
 
Why then, you may ask, did I give the book three stars? Because of the fast pace, the tightly and carefully ratcheting suspense, and the thrilling battle scenes. I don't know if the author has ever been in the armed forces, but she certainly seems to know her way around a battlefield. The gore and the muck, the tedium and terror of war, are fully explored. The technology of a combat airship is well thought out, and there are exciting scenes of battles in cloud banks, and Josette's airship Mistral running silent like a submarine. Once we get into the actual fighting, the book picks up, and I raced through it to the end. 
 
This doesn't take away the clumsily written characterization, however. Unless "the fop" is gotten rid of, or at the very least sidelined in favor of Josette Dupre taking center stage, I won't be picking up the sequel.

Eeeennnnhhh! Now!!!

September 12th, 2017 03:57 pm
lil_m_moses: (libra)
[personal profile] lil_m_moses
Libra Horoscope for week of September 14, 2017
"Dear Dr. Astrology: I'm feeling lost, but am also feeling very close to finding my new direction. It hurts! It would be so helpful if I could just catch a glimpse of that new direction. I'd be able to better endure the pain and confusion if I could get a tangible sense of the future happiness that my pain and confusion are preparing me for. Can you offer me any free advice? -Lost Libra." Dear Libra: The pain and confusion come from the dying of the old ways. They need to die a bit more before the new direction will reveal itself clearly. I predict that will happen soon -- no later than October 1.
So very timely while considering what to do about the house, while looking for ways to move north (or jobs to ensure us income there, anyway) and where exactly to go (gut tells me TC or Madison...the latter's a lot better for jobs for me (and probably both of us), but it's not all that close to my family, being on the wrong side of a giant lake; Grand Rapids would be the theoretical best compromise), and if going back to school for a career change (and to what) would be better. Josh's is pretty good too, while he undergoes similar soul-searching for similar reasons.
Page generated September 26th, 2017 02:39 pm