Simon’s Backup Weblog


Off to Paris…

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on March 31, 2003

…to the Microsoft Mobility DevCon. Back Wednesday night. Let’s see if they have a WLAN in Disneyland Paris…

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A Monday Morning “Off To Gay Paree” Review: The Wreck Of The River Of Stars

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on March 31, 2003

2002/3 has been an excellent year for SF. In the last year I’ve been privileged to read some of the best and most exciting fiction I’ve seen since the boom years of the late 80s and early 90s. Michael Flynn’s latest novel just raises the bar still further. Loosely connected to the Heinleinian “Firestar” series, The Wreck Of The River Of Stars is one of the most literate SF novels of recent years.

The Wreck Of The River Of Stars is a tragedy. From the very first page you know you’re going to be an observer riding along on a slow motion train wreck. A dysfunctional crew, on a dysfunctional ship, put together by a dying captain, they’re flying a once great vessel on a tramp circuit betwen the Jupiter and its trojan asteroids. Once a magnetic sail, swooping through the solar system, “The River Of Stars” ios now a fusion powered vessle, steam (as always) finally defeating sail. When the captain dies and the engines fail at a crucial point in a voyage, the crew needs to make a desperate attempt to save themselves – repairing both the snuffed fusion flames and the majestic sweep of the ship’s old sails. It’s a futile task, and we watch them as they struggle, watch until the very end. And as the ship dies, we see the birth of the ship’s AI as an independent, thinking being, to be left, drifting in an empty ship. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of all, in a string of failed relationships and deaths.

Flynn’s writing has taken a leap from the straight-forward prose of the Firestar books to something powerful and dynamic. All through The Wreck Of The River Of Stars Flynn explores the edges of the conventions of science fiction, switching from viewpoint to viewpoint, dropping into the heads of characters and standing well away, a dispassionate observer. For we know that this story is a Greek tragedy, the players walking their allotted paths in front of the knowing chorus, trudging to their several dooms, driven by their pasts and their various chosen presents. Archetypes all, the characters dance their way across the shabby stage of their dying ship. Boys, girls, men and women, all driven to the stars, all running from failure and loss. All struggling to stay alive, despite their flaws and problems.

But despite the tawdry tragedy that underlies the story, there’s hope here – hope that no matter what, people try to break through their limitations, that faced with certain death, they rage, rage against the dying of the light. And in that rage, prove the power of the human spirit. And that, perhaps, is the story Flynn is trying to tell.

An excellent and wonderful book.

(If a novel could be a Turner painting, this one would be The Fighting Temeraire.)

Expect to see it on the award lists in 2004.

Personalised stamps from the Royal Mail

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on March 30, 2003

(and originally ) just pointed out the new personalised stamp service from the Royal Mail. Just upload a digital image, and for £14.95 you’ll get a book of stamps back containing your image.

It’s not quite as good an idea as it seems – you need to pair it with one of their “Smilers” range, but it’s a start…

A selection of Apple commercials…

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on March 30, 2003

…can be found here. It’s even got both of the Pixar iMac commercials (needs Qicktime), which was never seen in the UK.

(thanks to for the link)

A Saturday Night “This One’s Been On The Pile A While” Review: Strange But Not A Stranger

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on March 29, 2003

James Patrick Kelly may not be a prolific novellist, but his short stories are regular features of magazines like Asimov’s. And they’re the kind of stories that will stick with you for years to come. Strange But Not A Stranger is the latest collection of his work, part of Golden Gryphon’s series of short story collections.

This is an excellent collection, containing works like the Cordwainer Smith/Alfred Bester homage space opera “Undone”, and the seminal cyberpunk piece, “The Prisoner Of Chillon” (which went on to form part of the novel Wildlife). You’ll find stories that explore the nuclear fears of the 1960s, of life in the virtual industries of tomorrow. There are love stories, thrillers, space opera, horror and genetically engineered sweets. Some stories, like the haunting “Unique Visitors” are short vignettes that snapshot a few moments in tomorrow, while others feel like the seeds of future novel, while others, like “The Pyramind Of Amirah” are strange, fantastic tales that slide on to the far side of weird.

You can dip into any of Kelly’s stories, and come out rewarded. Crafted words explore complex themes, while entertaining and enthralling the reader. It’s hard to find enough superlatives to describe Kelly, but you’re just going to have to head off and buy yourself a copy of this book.

One of the best collections of a very good year, Stange But Not A Stranger is that rare bird, the essential book. Buy it now, read it, and then go out and share it with a few friends. You won’t regret it.

Neat RSS tricks for LiveJournal

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on March 29, 2003

LJ is good at handling RSS internally – however it’s not so good at producing an RSS feed from your entries, or letting you feed your friends page into tools like Syndirella. However, the folllowing two LJ styles go some way to fixing that…

An RSS feed of your Friends view, suitable for use in any desk top aggregators you use:
http://www.livejournal.com/customview.cgi?user=(fill-in your LJ name here)&styleid=57252

An RSS version of your journal – with content:
http://www.livejournal.com/customview.cgi?user=(fill-in your LJ name here)&styleid=90448

(Note – these will only display unprotected entries, unless your RSS client has access to your own cookies…)
(Thanks, for tracking these styles down)

A Saturday Morning “Procrastination Time” Review: The Reliquary Ring

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on March 29, 2003

Cherith Baldry’s The Reliquary Ring lies somewhere on the borders between fantasy and science fiction. It’s a place where alternate history and steampunk science meet magic and mystery, all framed by the lagoon that surrounds the City.

In an alternate Venice human fertility is declining. Artificial people, genics, are purchased from the Empire to the north to serve the city’s people. Ungodly, unsouled (or so the Church teaches), genics are an underclass – tolerated for the work they do, hated for their unhuman nature. Some are built for a purpose, like Hyacinth the singer, while others are trying to find out just why they are here. As the city’s elected Duke begins to die, the city’s Byzantine politics are complicated by the arrival of the dark Count Dracone. He wants to rule, and will stop at nothing – blackmail, murder, trafficing in forbidden technologies. The meek Loredan finds himself opposing Dracone, for love of his city and the love of his genic servant. It’s a conflict that will see darkness fall over the city, and the existing order toppled.

The Reliquary Ring is a story of searches, all wrapped in the quest for the titualar ring. Containing a hair of the Christos himself, this is an artifact that can offer its owner great power. Power is why Count Dracone wants the ring: the power to control the city, the power to twist human and genic alike to his dark desires. Loredan doesn’t want power, he wants to find peace, love and friendship. Thrust into a position he didn’t ask for, he has to become his city’s saviour. It’s a task that will change everything he knows and loves. But Loredan has one thing that will help him overcome the threat of Dracone: friends. Not just his peers, but at levels in the city – from the genic ghettos to the power brokers who are struggling to find a new leader.

There are echoes in Baldry’s writings of other works. Like Cordwainer Smith’s underpeople, Baldry’s genics are in search of freedom and equality – but not just of power, also of faith and acceptance. There are deep questions underlying The Reliquary Ring: in a world where humanity’s spiritual nature is defined by its relationship with a creator, what happens when humanity itself becomes a creator of intelligent beings? What is the relationship between the created and its creator?

Baldry attempts to answer these questions through the lives of her four main genic characters, each showing a different aspect of the question: Serafina in search of meaning in her life, Gabriel in his love for his master and his joy in his creation of art, Hyacinth in his desire for song, and Alessandro in his simple quest for equality. As we follow them through the story we see them finding their own answers – for there is no one answer to the great questions, only the answer that is right for each individual.

Like our Venice, a city floating at the edges of the sea, tied to its many moods, the city of The Reliquary Ring has its own relationship with the sea. Each of the main characters has their own relationship with the sea, and these relationships will affect more than just their own stories.

The Reliquary Ring is a powerful and beautiful story, that captures the spirit of Venice – and in doing so, attempts to ask (and perhaps, answer) some of the deep questions of love, freedom and acceptance.

Highly recommended.

XML is OK

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on March 28, 2003

… is the real title of this lovely piece by Tim Bray that covers pretty much everything I love about XML.

And I do love this quote: The Python people also piped to say “everything’s just fine here” but then they always do, I really must learn that language.

Has it really been 10 years…

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on March 28, 2003

…since we all fought over those first few copies of Wired issue 1.01?

With the 10th anniversary issue now available, I’m wondering if there’s a case for naming those of us who’ve built our online lives over those years (and in many cases, before) Generation Wired TM….

Time Travelling Stock Fraudsters?

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on March 28, 2003

…or so goes this news story

(tho’ perhaps it should be ignored, considering the source…)

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