Finished Gradisil by Adam Roberts. Tells the stories of three betrayals acted out by successive generations of the same family; alongside the story of the colonization of Earth orbit.
Found it a bit of a curate's egg. The stories are pretty compelling, and some of the characters are entertainingly monstrous. Has quite a few imaginative touches, like the gradual changes in language, and the advertising mannequins.
On the other hand, it was grating in some ways. The first aspect is the science. I've enjoyed other Adam Roberts books despite absurd physics, but here it's too tightly integrated with the plot to overlook. There are flashes of accuracy, like his realisation that lower orbits are faster; but Roberts seems to intuitively hold to the popular folk theory that orbits are about getting beyond the pull of gravity. He doesn't seem to understand that to stay in orbit you need to reach a very high speed, otherwise you come straight back down. The problem of getting into orbit isn't one of height: that bit's easy, it's getting up to orbital velocity that's the problem.
The key invention here is propulsion system that lifts aircraft against the Earth's magnetic field: fine, but that alone isn't the same as getting into orbit unless you have some means of attaining high speed with it. The same applies for the astronaut who descends safely to earth in a space suit: he'd still need some means of shedding his speed. So, it lacks credibility when the characters fulminate against the stupidity of NASA's insistence on rockets and how they're fixated on escape velocity. (Escape velocity has nothing to do with getting into orbit: you need far more energy still to reach escape velocity and get out of Earth's gravity well completely).
Other weaknesses: Roberts doesn't seem to have heard of radar. The plot hinges on the ability of orbital colonists to move around without being detected by the military, but there are other incidents, such as a close approach to a weapons satellite, where the protagonists seem to believe that if they switch off their transponders they can't be detected.
The other irritation is the weak satire of the Military Mind: where all the soldiers are depicted as bloodthirsty idiots. Thinks one: "That turned out to be the least bloody war in American history. But maybe this time it'll be different. We can but hope." Haven't seen this kind of thing in a while: most people seem to grasp that there's a difference between the individual and the institution. Adam Roberts rather sheltered school-to-academia biography seems to be showing a bit here.
So, not his best. Worth it if you're a fan, but otherwise you'd be better off starting off with his other books: "Salt" was a minor classic.
What I'm Watching
Saw The Aristocrats: documentary interviewing various comedians about a single notoriously dirty joke. Works pretty well. Not exactly a riot with just the one joke, but fascinating to see the different takes on it. A couple of them seemed to be getting laughs from actual audiences from it though.
The one really outstanding Aristocrats came from a Sarah Silverman, so I watched her recorded show Jesus is Magic. That had me laughing out loud in places: she puts on (I hope) a magnificently horrible persona of simpering offensiveness. Some of the one-liners are disturbingly amusing. "I was raped by a doctor. That's so bitter-sweet for a Jewish girl." The comic songs were a bit weak though. Also, she relies quite a bit on the shock value of racism, and I don't think that doesn't really cross the Atlantic too well.
- Been feeling cranky and irritable lately. Not sleeping too well: keep waking up too early with light and noise
- Opera 9 is pretty good. Like the little previews when you hover over the tabs. You can change the annoying CTRL-N opens-in-new-window function from Preferences->Advanced->Shortcuts. The built-in BitTorrent is pretty basic: just lets you limit overall bandwidth. UI is very unobtrusive: just looks like a normal download. Setup is very simple though: the easiest client to setup I've seen, though I think firewall config is the hardest bit for newbies
- Followed wiredog's links to the Great Kos Scandal
This Townhouse mailing list thing does explain a lot: I thought they just all talked about
the same things at the same time because they were unimaginative, but it seems it's all
organized. Thought one of the RedState comments was interesting:
As someone else pointed out, this explains their paranoia in thinking people on the right are somehow coordinated by Rove. I nave noticed in my own life experiance that when someone accuses you of doing something you would never consider doing it is often because A: they would do the same thing if they were you or B: they already ARE doing the same thing or have done so in the past.
- Christdot discussion: Food laws vs. homosexuality.
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