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By TheophileEscargot (Sat Jul 19, 2014 at 08:57:05 AM EST) Reading, Listening, Me, MLP (all tags)
Reading: "How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe", "Ancillary Justice", "Neptune's Brood". Listening: "Krakatoa". Me. Links.

What I'm Reading
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. Short metafictional science fiction novel, set in a "chronodiagetic" (time-from-a-subjective-point-of-view) universe based around science fiction clichés, where a average-guy protagonist has to confront his problems when caught in a time loop.

Fairly entertaining, though from the reviews it seems pretty baffling to non-science-fiction fans. The implications of this kind of universe aren't really worked through, but there are some nice comic touches and an element of pathos.

What I'm Reading 2
Ancillary Justice Science fiction novel set in the far future. An imperialist power, the Radchaii sp??? has spaceships run by AIs who use "ancillaries": captured human beings operated by the ship via implants, either by direct remote control or local copies of the ship's mind. After a ship is destroyed, the one remaining ancillary searches for answers.

Good book. It's a good concept, and has some impessive worldbuilding and decent action. Has the usual weakness in that it's the first part of a series and so obvious questions are deferred to later books. Is the captured person still in there, a helpless prisoner?.

The book was mentioned on Metafilter, which gives the impression it might be a bit overrated. The protagonist is largely oblivious to gender and refers to everyone as "she" or "her".

What I'm Reading 3
Neptune's Brood by Charles Stross. Loosely linked to his earlier "Saturn's Children", it's set in a future universe populated by robots mostly sticking by tradition to a humanoid single-body.

I liked this a lot, certainly more than the first volume. One of Stross' rare strengths is that he looks at the economics of science fiction scenarios, and this book comes up with some interesting ideas about the finance of subluminal interstellar flight.

Also has a bit of a David Graeber influence in the attitude to debt, and some decent old-school science fiction space colonization ideas.

Well worth a read if you like hard SF and economics, possibly even just one of the two.

What I'm Listening To
Krakatoa: the Day the World Exploded by Simon Winchester. A discursive non-fiction book going all around the subject. It covers the history of the region, the history of plate tectonics, the geology of the eruption, the significance of the newly invented submarine telegraph, the biology of the repopulated islands, and the politics of the response to the eruption, which seems to have encouraged early resistance to colonialism.

Good book, informative and well written.

The audiobook is read by the author, sometimes a mistake but fortunately he's a good reader.


  • Baby seems to be getting used to nursery. He enjoys it, but the downside is the endless array of bugs and diseases.
  • Wife and son both got sick. Baby had conjunctivitis, which turned into a nasty fever that led us to rush to A&E. Baby recovering now and back at nursery. Wife still sick.
  • Work is a struggle. After more changes my team now has a new scrummaster who's trying to make his mark with ambitious goals. So there's a lot of stories to get through, and a certain amount of pressure to get through them quickly, which is tricky for me when I'm not that familiar with the technology or the domain.
  • Feeling pretty exhausted.
Socioeconomics. Generational poverty is the exception not the rule. The degradation of middle-class work.

Sci/Tech. Bacteria that live on electricity. Late sixties data format plate Ask MeFi. 15 constellations and how to find them.

Politics. Mentally ill people need to be helped, not hounded.

Random. Meet your ancestors. "Why I began to write for children" by Isaac Bashevis Singer. The ping-pong theory of tech world sexism.

Articles. The Mystery of the Etruscans.

< cool runnings | 15 years ago tonight... >
West of Java | 9 comments (9 topical, 0 hidden)
Ancillary Justice by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #1 Sat Jul 19, 2014 at 03:15:03 PM EST
I'm glad you made the point that the gender language is as much or more about the first person protagonist's gender obliviousness than the genderlessness of the society portrayed.  I've seem some refer to the protagonist as "female", which rather misses the point as while her physical body may be female (and I am not sure there's actual textual proof of that) the character herself is genderless by her very nature.   (An consciousness born spanning many human bodies of both genders.)

Anyway, lots of very interesting things about that book, not just the gender stuff, where the viewpoint leaves you clueless about the actual gender of all but one character, but also the viewpoint from inside an evil empire.

Anyway, it's not clear to me that the society portrayed is as gender neutral as some say as much as it is an experiment on confounding the reader's own gender biases.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

Tiredness by R343L (4.00 / 1) #2 Sat Jul 19, 2014 at 10:02:05 PM EST
I've been tired for months and I don't even have a ambitious scrum master (thorough I am doing new things too.)


Ancillary Justice is on the list when I feel like fiction. And you almost have me considering a Stross book which I've avoided due to being mostly neutral on (sometimes actively annoyed by) his posts on the web (which is in contrast to Scalzi who I liked his blog before I picked up a book.) Still. Sounds interesting. Or maybe I'm ready for some fiction (though new Scalzi and new Watts next month!)

"There will be time, there will be time / To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet." -- Eliot

Scalzi and Stross by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #3 Sat Jul 19, 2014 at 11:26:54 PM EST
Scalzi's fiction I find to be a mixed bag...Stross too for that matter.  Both are authors who I liked initially but became annoyed at some of their authorial ticks.  Stross is the better writer, IMHO, but I suspect you'd be annoyed at his female characters as for the most part he just can't write female characters.  (Somewhat ironically, Saturn's Children, whose main character is a sex-robot, is the only one I've read that doesn't have this failing.)

Scalzi I like more when he's being experimental.  I almost skipped Redshirts as the last couple of books left a bad taste but ended up really liking it.

I think Ancillary Justice is in another league from either author as it has a lot of depth and some serious world building.

Looking forward to the new Watts, but looking forward to Hawk even more.

[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

[ Parent ]
Sick wife & baby don't help with tiredness by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #4 Sun Jul 20, 2014 at 02:31:09 AM EST
Baby's gone back to waking up several times a night.

I think Stross would be a much better writer if he could write just one novel a year. Churning out those big series so fast is his biggest problem: I really regret wasting time on the dire later Merchant Princes and apparently he's writing even more.

Scalzi seems like a lovely guy from his blog, but his books seem OK rather than brilliant to me.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
Combing replies mostly about Scalzi by R343L (4.00 / 1) #7 Sun Jul 20, 2014 at 07:44:01 PM EST
Scalzi for me is "popcorn". Light and fun but not too much depth. Which is honestly about how much attention I have for fiction often enough (should probably pick up the next Dresden for the same reason.)

"There will be time, there will be time / To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet." -- Eliot
[ Parent ]
Recommend the Dresdens by Merekat (2.00 / 0) #8 Mon Jul 21, 2014 at 01:06:04 PM EST
Just about the right size for exhausted brain.
Similar the Rivers of London stuff.

[ Parent ]
I want to correct Ariel's use of ringer by ammoniacal (2.00 / 0) #5 Sun Jul 20, 2014 at 02:37:20 AM EST
over wringer, but I don't want to be accused of sexism. Just another insidious way that sexism harms society and good grammar.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

Stross and the economists by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #6 Sun Jul 20, 2014 at 12:08:23 PM EST
Crooked Timber had a Stross roundup a while back including a bunch of well known economist fans like John Quiggin and Paul Krugman.

Can't remember if we discussed it here.

Iambic Web Certified

I tried really hard to like Ancillary Justice by aphrael (4.00 / 1) #9 Thu Jul 31, 2014 at 08:44:54 PM EST
but just couldn't get into it. :{
If television is a babysitter, the internet is a drunk librarian who won't shut up.
West of Java | 9 comments (9 topical, 0 hidden)