For reasons mainly to do with my brain, and what's current in it, I'd like to point you to Peter Watts' story Malak. Malak is a drone. More so, it's an autonomous drone, and is being trained (there seem to be software upgrades, and neural networks, and general tinkering in play) to make its own 'moral' decisions. All in the name of removing slow, fallible, guilt-stricken, hesitating humans out of the equation. Because it's so much easier to have machines make our dirty decision for us, never mind do the dirty work...
The drone here is called Azrael (after the angel of death...), and we experience the story through its 'eyes'.
I'm not gonna spoil your enjoyment of the story by giving away more. If you know Peter Watts then you know that what he shows is realistic, rarely very edifying (especially when humans are involved) and mirrors the complexities of the real world.
The picture on the right is of a drone called Azrael (I don't know if that's inspired by this story, or a parallel development), built in Lego, and posted on Flicker by a user called [MIXBRIX]. Recommended soundtrack to reading this: Drones, by Muse. Obviously.
I am behind in my Stross reading. Really behind. Here I am, writing up my thoughts on The Fuller Memorandum, a Laundry Files book from 2010 – a series in which there are two further books available (one of which is sitting next to me, looking at me accusingly) and a further one (The Annihilation Score) announced for this summer. And this is only one series... You see, that kind of behind. Sorry.
And, in the long time I have abstained, I had nearly forgotten how much fun these books can be. Yes, content, structure, geekiness, story-telling drive and humoristic content vary in their mix from book to book, but this is still ways more fun for someone with a technical background, who works immersed in a bureaucratic environment where kicking a dead whale down the beach provides more progress than dealing with HR, and who has a sense of humour based on wordplay and terrible puns. But that's just me; Charlie is worse...
Anyway, the Fuller Memorandum. I'm not sure how much needs to be said about the Author, Charles Stross (adopted Scot. Umpteen books to his name. Award-winning, including Hugo, Sideways, Prometheus etc. All-round entertaining presence when on stage or in full swing in the bar), or the Laundry as the topic of the series (UK secret agency, started after WWII, dealing with occult dealings, incursions, and the end of the world as it approaches inexorably). This book, as all others so far, follows our protagonist Bob Howard (not his real name) as he yet again gets into trouble with HR, with the Auditors, and with a rather sinister organisation of cultists, who are a front for something much worse, who also are a front. But I shouldn't spoil your fun here, let's just say they are the kind of people who can give a hardened occult agent well versed in demonology nightmares.
I've just been reading a number of (differing...) definitions of Magic Realism and Urban Fantasy, and still cannot decide which of those Charlie Human's books fall into. Heck, it could even be YA... So, sidestepping the genre question, Kill Baxter is the follow-up to Charlie's debut novel, Apocalypse Now Now. And it's rather fabulous, I think.
Charlie Human is a South African writer, published by Century and Random House, with two novels and a few published pieces of short fiction so far. Kill Baxter is set in the same universe as Apocalypse Now Now, and picks up more or less directly where the previous book ended. Baxter Zevenko has just saved the world, and, to get out of the trouble this got him into, had to agree to leave his Cape Town school where he was the Porn kingpin, and join Hexpoort school. Hexpoort is run by a secret government agency, and is teaching talented youngster on how to develop their magic abilities (Baxter is mainly a Dreamwalker, which is an unusual and near-extinct skill) and survive in this world where all kinds of creatures, referred to as The Hidden, er, hide amongst humanity. Not all of them have a very positive attitude to humans, and that's before you get into global and inter-species politics. Baxter is not happy in Hexpoort – he sucks at magic as something is blocking his abilities, making him absolutely bloody useless at it. He gets bullied by another pupil who apparently is prophesised to be The Chosen One (whatever or whoever that is), who is unhappy with Baxters fame for his deeds. His girlfriend, who he saved in the previous book has dumped him, and his best friend is not speaking to him anymore. Sucks to be him... and now his school is under attack by an unknown enemy referred to as the Muti Man (he collects the teeth of MK6 agents he kills for magic purposes), and instead of getting an education Baxter gets appreticed to Jackson 'Jackie' Ronin, an ex-soldier with both an psychological and a related alcohol problem. But that's the least of their problems...
To launch this they have posted a little taster, called St. Dymphna’s School For Poison Girls. It is, to some extent, a school and schoolgirl story, albeit with a twist. St Dymphna's is a finishing school - for girls who plan to kill their future husband, and potentially more of his family, in the name of revenge, of family honour, or any other societal reason.
But, as you might have guessed, there's more to the school than simply preparing girls to kill proficiently!
The story in illustrated with pen and ink drawings by Kathleen Jennings - the picture to the right is an example.
It's an entertaining read, and a good recommendation for the book, methinks!
I generally hold it with the wisdom of Public Enemy: Don't Believe The Hype. So, when something (in this case a book) comes along which is the bestestest thing ever, the greatest invention since the Triangular Wheel (Once bump less per rotation!), and something I absolutely urgently totally Must Read Now – I politely decline. Because it's a turn-off, because it's all too frequently not true, because I've been disappointed a few too many times, and because tomorrow there will be a different latest greatest hottest never to be surpassed thing anyway. So, when Ann Leckie's debut novel Ancillary Justice burst on the scene, winning heaps or praise and about every award going (and, from the noise you'd think also some yet to be invented), I watched all the frothing going on, and read something else. Still, the book was presented to me, with quieter, more insistent recommendations, so I relented and read it. Here is what I found.
Ancillary Justice is the first book in a 'loosely connected' trilogy known as Imperial Radch. The 2nd book in the series, Ancillary Sword, came out in in 2014, is on this year's Hugo shortlist (and likely to win, due to Puppygate); and the final instalment (Ancillary Mercy) is scheduled for release in 2015. Ancillary Justice has won the BSFA, Hugo, Nebula, and Clarke Awards (I think there's more, but that's the main ones anyway). The titles in themselves make interesting and subtle points – within the Radch Imperium (a rather large portion of space, centrally controlled) the names Justice, Sword, and Mercy refer to military space ships – a Justice is a troop carrier, the other two are smaller battle ships. An Ancillary, though, is a member of the crew of a Justice, a soldier, normally taken prisoner during an Annexation (ie the Radch gobbling up another planet or solar system), who in most cases is put in storage for a few hundred years, and who, when resurrected and ambulatory, has none of his previous memories or personality anymore, but is controlled by the ship mind of the Justice, who functions as some kind of hive mind, with many pairs of eyes, hands, voices.
You know the theorem that an infinite number of monkeys, randomly hitting keys on typewriters, would eventually over an infinite period produce, for example, the collected works of William Shakespeare, yes? Well, here is the book with the most self-deprecating title, ever - who would, in their right mind and the light of the above, call their book Ten Monkeys, Ten Minutes? It’s a rhetorical question, I know.
Ten Monkeys, Ten Minutes is the first short story collection by Peter Watts, published on the heel of the critically acclaimed novel Starfish, and prior to the (differently marvelous) Maelstrom. Overall Peter now has 5-7 novels (it depends a bit on how you count) and two collections to his name, most of which he also makes available via his website for free. And if that makes you think he might have strong opinions about publishers, and about IP, then you would very much be right… A number of the stories in this collection have since been re-released as part of the more recent ‘Beyond the Rift’ collection. I have not checked if these are 100% identical, or if some minor editing or re/writing has taken place. It’s not relevant, I feel - all of them bear re-reading, and completists will want both books anyway.
Below I provide a short overview of the stories in this slim volume, and a capsule review of what they are about and what I thought of them; if you’d rather avoid such spoilers then I’d like to leave you with the recommendation that this is a rather splendid and clever collection, and well worth your time.