Simon’s Backup Weblog


Off to the New World

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on February 22, 2003

My next entry should be from San Francisco. We’re off to the airport in an hour or so, for the 10 hour flight.

I’ll see some of you folk next week!

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A Saturday Morning “I Should Be Packing” Review: Stealing The Elf-King’s Roses

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on February 22, 2003

Diane Duane is a consistently inventive writer who has managed to put an original spin to existing franchises, as well as producing her own well crafted worlds. Her latest novel, Stealing The Elf-King’s Roses, is something of a new departure, mixing SF, high fantasy and a CSI-style police procedural into a coherent whole.

Lee Enfield (an amusing choice of names!) is a prosecuting lanthomancer in a Los Angeles that isn’t quite our own. Part of a sheaf of universes that includes ours, hers is a world that mixes high technology with deep magic. Specialist investigators like Lee and her intelligent, talking hound partner Gelert are able to “see” into crimes, effectively re-enacting them, by bringing the all too real spirit of Justice into the world. But her world isn’t the only one accessible. Already 6 universes are linked by physical gates that allow someone to walk from one Earth to another. Some worlds are the embodiments of other worlds’ myths, while others, like the elf-home Alfheim, have significantly different physical laws.

Called in to help the LAPD investigate the murder of an elven scientist, Lee finds herself caught up in plots that span universes – plots that could lock the worlds into a potentially dangerous configuration. Alternately manipulated and informed, Lee must enter the closed universe of Alfheim as a part of a UN inspection team. It’s there that she’ll learn the secrets the elves have kept from the rest of the universes, and will find herself in a position to make one of the biggest changes possible.

Duane’s light style and deft touch make this a quick and easy read. And yet, there is a deeper story under the light detective story – a tale that explores the questions of whether there is a purpose to the universe, and how our lives reach out and affect those around us, wherever we are, whatever we do. My only real reservation is that at times her elves feel like her revision of Star Trek’s Romulans, the Rihannsu.

Well worth reading. And it’s fun, too. Somehow I get the feeling we may well see more of Lee Enfield.

A Friday Morning “Waiting For The Dentist” Review: The Ark

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on February 21, 2003

While I prefer the original UK title His Majesty’s Starship, unfortunately Ben Jeapes’ first novel is out of print in the UK, and so (as Ben suggested) I had to order it from the US, where it’s called The Ark.

Sold as YA, The Ark lives in that territory where adult fiction and YA fiction merge into one. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be on the shelves alongside Alastair Reynolds or Ken MacLeod, instead of beside the Harry Potters of this world. Jeapes has written a deeply philosophical novel which explores two key themes: the nature of duty and the nature of obedience. Where does one end and the other begin? How can we stop the slide from duty to blind obedience and then into slavery?

In the mid 22nd century humanity has finally begun to move out into the solar system. There are colonies on Mars, and the asteroids are a vital source of resources. The last remnants of the British royal family are now a spacefaring corporation, running the immense asteroid mining complex UK1. And humanity knows it is not alone – the alien First Breed are here, and they’ve invited a human delegation to travel with them to a world that they are offering to share with humans. But all is not as it seems – among the humans and among the First Breed. Michael Gilmore has been selected to be the captain of the “Ark Royal”, the UK’s first starship (as well as nursemaid to the Crown Prince), and when everything starts to go wrong with the interstellar mission it’s up to him to find a solution for all humans of all nations – and the First Breed as well,

This is an excellent first novel, it’s concise and well written, with plenty of panache. Jeapes has a feel for near future space opera that mixes well drawn characters with action scenes that are well aware of the limitations of the physical universe – even when drawn on the scale of orbital combat.

A good start. It wil be interesting to see where Jeapes takes his career, as YA seems to be too limiting a label for his talents – which deserve much wider exposure.

Good news from home…

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on February 21, 2003

In this week’s sitting of the States of Jersey, the Island’s government voted to send a letter to the UK Government protesting any attack on Iraq without a UN mandate.

“Twenty seven members voted in favour of Deputy Geoff Southern’s motion, and seventeen against.”

It may not mean much, coming from 45 square miles in the English Channel, but it’s my homeland, and I’m proud of them – especially as they are still in the middle of a nasty set of financial negotiations over their offshore banking and aren’t getting much support from the UK…

(Also this is to note that the new BBC Jersey site is a much better source of island information than the Jersey Evening Post’s This Is Jersey…)

A Thursday Evening Catchup Review: Hammerfall

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on February 21, 2003

C.J. Cherryh is probably best known for her Alliance-Union universe stories. In the last few years she’s begun to branch away from the complex politics of that world – into yet more complex politics elsewhere and elsewhen.

Hammerfall is the first volume of a new series. Set on a desert world, populated by tribal colonists, it depicts a struggle against the elements that has shaped a culture that was obviously once hi-tech and space-faring into one similar to the pre-Islamic Arab world. An epidemic of madness has led to the world’s near-immortal ruler, the Ila, calling for the mad to be brought to the hub of the world – the city of Oburan. Marak Tais Tain is one of the mad – but he’s also a failed rebel…

The madness is driving its sufferers east, out into the raw lands that have yet to be changed by the hand of man. The Ila sends Marak and a group of the mad out into the east to find the source of the madness’ compelling call. It’s a mission that will change the world completely, forcing an end to its isolation, and an accounting for the Ila’s sins. But before that happens, Marak needs to save as many as he can before the Hammer falls from the sky.

Cherryh is telling a story of change. Changed worlds, through nanotech and terraforming, changed peoples, and changed ideas. Marak isn’t a catalyst for change – he’s one of those who changes the most. Instead, the changes are wrought by powerful presences, somewhere off stage. The Ila has raped a world, forcing change where none was needed, or (indeed) even permitted. Now she must pay the price, and it’s the one-time rebel tribesman who must help build a new world from the shattered ruins of the old.

Hammerfall is an excellent story, and a very different direction for Cherryh. It will be interesting to see where she takes the rest of this new series: The Gene Wars.

A Thursday Lunchtime “Cold Day In London” Review: The Meek

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on February 20, 2003

Hay On Wye has a lot to answer for. While it may have the largest collection of second hand bookshops in a single town this side of the Atlantic Ocean, it’s also a place were my reach often exceeds my grasp, where I end up buying books that normally wouldn’t have any chance of gracing my bookcase. One such book is Scott Mackay’s The Meek.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. This is an awful book, full of clumsy characters falling over each other as they try to reclaim a devastated Ceres as a hi-grav nursery for the fledgling asteroid state of Vesta, as they struggle to deal with the rock’s existing inhabitants – the people their ancestors tried to kill as they abandoned Ceres prior to trying to sterilise it with nuclear weapons. Can they work together peacefully, or are both sides doomed to repeat history? Poor writing and clockwork plotting wind us though a book full of coincidences and pointless revelations. It’s probably best to avoid even thinking about the shoddy science (black holes with fluctuating gravitational fields, nuclear bomb that split into multiple warheads at a set distance from a target…).

But I always like to try to find something food in a book. So what redeeming features does The Meek have? Well, there are some nice ideas about human adaptation to unusual environments and a few possibly interesting characters, but they’re lost in info-dump and pointless backstory. If I hadn’t been nursemaiding two hour long test cycles, I think this could have been that rare book that never even gets finished. Still, I endured my way to the end, and the Hollywood-ready happy ending.

There’s a lot here to indicate that this is a formulaic work, written to entice the Hollywood eye (and possibly run through at least one of those software plot management tools). From the flawed viewpoint character, the arrival on scene of various bad guys who can easily be thwarted, the plot that could survive film industry cuts, and the several dramatic peaks that seem almost ready for the special effects men – especially the scene where vacuum adapted humans sweep off solar panels with brooms in order to allow the hero to fire a beam weapon at oncoming nuclear weapons.

Avoid. Honestly, this book really isn’t worth your time…

One of the best alternate histories I’ve read…

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on February 19, 2003

…is Gnome’s “What If Gordon Banks Had Played?“, currently coming to a conclusion of its run on Usenet. Alternately horrifying and enthralling, it’s the story of Britain’s descent into facism and anarchy under a Powell government in the 1970s. Whoever Gnome is, his writing style is superb, and his take on British politics is excellent.

Serialised in soc.history.what-if and collected on his web site, his mix of reports, interviews and book-excerpts is a snapshot of a history we narrowly escaped.

A satisfying reminder that perhaps this is the best of all possible worlds.

Time to change the look of your SPV?

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on February 18, 2003

The default screens that come with the Orange SPV are a tad boring. So here’s a site to help out…

For some reason I’m now using an OS X look with a squashed penguin in a stamp as the background to my normal view.

Online magnetic poetry from blog entries…

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on February 18, 2003

Snowed in on the East Coast, Mark Pilgrim has put together a tool for creating magnetic poetry from web sites.

Just replace the end of this URL (http://diveintomark.org/magnetic/diveintomark.org) with your blog or LJ or whatever, and play!

Here’s a set of magnets for this blog.

Comets around the Sun

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on February 18, 2003

The SOHO solar observation probe is producing some amazing images of the interactions between the Sun and the NEAT comet – including it possibly being hit by a solar eruption.

More SOHO images can be found here and here.

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