Simon’s Backup Weblog

More Saturday Capsule Reviews

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on August 30, 2003

Another batch from the recently read pile…

Vitals, Greg Bear
A near-future biotech thriller, Vitals mixes life-extension research, biological mind control, and the community of bacteria into a dark and dangerous story. Hal Cousins finds himself caught up in a decades old conspiracy from Stalin’s Russia that believes he’s getting a little too close to its secrets. It’s a conspiracy with literal power over the way people think. And it’s one that may be connected to the ultimate fate of the human race. Bear has come up with a dark book that looks carefully at the underbelly of science. It’s not a pleasant picture, but it’s a book that’s hard to put down.

Darwin’s Blade, Dan Simmons
Another thriller, this time a more conventional novel. Darwin Minor is a freelance accident investigator, who finds himself caught up in a nasty turf war for control of Southern California’s accident fraud industry. With accident scenes taken from the Darwin’s Award gallery of gruesome deaths, and a philosophy from William of Ockham, this is a darkly funny and hugely enjoyable read. It’s a subversion of the classic airport thriller, with a dark humour that’s often missing from the serious tone of many blockbuster novel writers. Like all of Simmons’ books to date, highly recommended. I’m always amazed by how many different ways this man can write.

Sister Alice, Robert Reed
Robert Reed is a minor miracle of modern SF. Writing dense and complex fictions, he tells stories of a posthuman tomorrow in a way that makes them understandable to today. The characters of Sister Alice are as powerful as gods, and as weak as we are. A brave and grandiose experiment at the heart of the galaxy has turned into disaster, killing untold trillions and tearing down the structures that have kept the myriad worlds at piece. The youngest member of the Chamberlain family is tasked with preventing the disaster, and must survive betrayals and the destruction of everything he holds dear. It’s a story of love, loyalty and compassion, set against a background of advanced technologies and cutting edge physics. Reed at his best, and at his most compelling.

Magician’s Ward, Patricia C. Wrede
In an alternate London, after the end of the Napoleonic wars, a young girl has escaped the slums to become the ward of a great magician. It’s the world of Sorcery and Cecilia, and great deeds are afoot once more. Someone is stealing the magic of untrained street wizards, and Kim and her guardian must use all therir skills to both find the villain, protect possible victims and deal with Kim’s coming out to London society. It’s a classic romace novel, with misunderstandings, sperations and reconciliations to spare. Wrede loves her world, and it’s a joy to share it with her.

The Scar, China Mieville
Bas-Lag is a big world, full of strange places and stranger people. Bellis Coldwine is about to see more of it than she ever expected, as she flees New Corobuzon and the repercussions of the events of Perdido Street Station. When her ship to the new colonies is diverted, and then attacked by the pirates of the floating city of Armada, she finds herself on a quest for a creature from another universe, and for the mysterious Scar itself. None of Mieville’s characters are particularly sympathetic, and it’s difficult to feel much for Bellis. The Scar gives us a different side of Mieville’s writing – dark and sparse, like the emptiness of the oceans. Another masterpiece from the talented China.

More still to come…


Saturday Morning Capsule Reviews

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on August 30, 2003

OK, I’m sorry – I’ve let it slip so much that there’s no way I can write a proper set of reviews for all the books I’ve read since I last wrote one up… But, I still want to keep some sort of record of them, so I’ll resort to use two or three entries to write up a set of short reviews of several books at a time.

The Spirit Of Thunder, Kurt R.A. Giambastiani
The second in an ongoing alternate history of the American West, where Native Americans ride dinosaurs and Custer is the US pesident. Custer’s son is living a “Dances With Wolves” life with the Cheyenne, and dealing with betrayal and lies from the expansionist colonists in the East. Gold and rail bridges threaten the future of the Cheyenne. Can Custer Jr. save them again?

Year’s Best SF 7, ed. David G. Hartwell
Hartwell’s anthology series is one of three Best SF anthologies currently running, and probably the middle runner in terms of quality (sandwiched between the Dozois and the Silverberg/Haber). A good selection of stories, with the standout being Simon Ing’s moving “Russian Vine”. Worth taking along on a long trip, for a quick dip into quality SF.

Redshift, ed. Al Sarrantonio
An admirable, but failed, attempt at being a Dangerous Visions for our time, Sarrantonio attempts to bring together cutting edge fantastic fiction from all the sub genres into a single volume. It’s a pity, but the mix just doesn’t quite work. There are standout stories here, notably Dan Simmons’ climbing adventure and Elizabeth Hand’s chilling Camden horror “Cleopatra Brimstone”. It’s a book I’m still unsure about recommending, even for these excellent pieces…

Bad Timing (and other stories), Molly Brown
Molly’s been part of the UK fantastic fiction scene for many years now, writing stories that slip between genres with ease. This, her first collection, brings together many years worth of moving stories and powerful narratives. Compelling characters and edgy plots make this a gripping read. Well worth hunting down – a task made much harder now by the unfortunate closure of Big Engine.

More reviews to come later…

Kittens for the allergic…

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on August 29, 2003

come as Flash.

Wiggle the mouse to see what it does…

The SCO affair: cock-up rather than conspiracy

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on August 29, 2003

Putting all conspiracy theories aside, as fun as they are (especially if you’re ESR), I’m actually pretty convinced that the real state of affairs in SCO vs Linux is the result of cock-up rather than conspiracy.

My gut feel is this: SCO used the lawyers to make a quick buck, by waving an IP portfolio and a license agreement for the Unix System at people and expecting them to fold quickly. Their first two targets paid up – MS because it didn’t want to face another big lawsuit with so many on the go at once (and one against UNIX would just be sooo much bad publicity), and Sun because it’s getting enough bad press at the moment over its financials and didn’t want to take any risks over Solaris.

IBM weren’t so quick to fold. SCO went legal to try and push for payment. The lawyers came out, and then the bills started arriving, and SCO was out of its depth, as IBM decided to play a waiting game.

The rest is history.

(originally posted as a comment in another place)

Hammed Up Horrors

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on August 29, 2003

While putting together my last entry on the Devils Dictionary 2.0, my random MP3 playlist was playing Steve Hackett’s Hammer Horror hammed-up cover of Thomas Dolby’s often forgotten early track The Devil is an Englishman.

The Devil is an Englishman.

A poet walks amongst the Gods
But jealous men have pulled me down
Now exiled in a foreign land
I coax my demons into life
While people cross themselves and say
The Devil is an Englishman

Beelzebub in human form
I mingle with the noblemen
Young girls fall pleading at my feet
As I defile them one by one
Devouring half of London Town
The Devil is an Englishman

A nest of tiny scorpions
Are breeding in my cranium
Poet Laureate of hell
The Devil is an Englishman

In yet a hundred years from now
As leeches suck upon the flesh
For those who trek beyond the grave
This dark demented soul lives on
The Devil is an Englishman

© Thomas Dolby

Dark and funny at the same time… Excellent stuff.

Appropriate definitions?

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on August 29, 2003

A word or two for our time. Or at least for the web geeks amongst us. The rest of the definitions are well worth blogging

[yet more random linkage from the living RSS feed that is ]

Friday Five

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on August 29, 2003

1. Are you going to school this year?
No. Not unless someone gives me lots of money and tells me to go do an MBA or something. I am spending too much time writing about ICT in Higher Education, though. Perhaps that counts?

2. If yes, where are you going (high school, college, etc.)? If no, when did you graduate?
1988 and 1989.

3. What are/were your favorite school subjects?
Physics and Electronics. I wouldn’t be where I am today without those two courses. I also enjoyed General Studies, where we did a “The Best Books” course, and where I also started learning about Douglas Hofstadter and Soft AI.

4. What are/were your least favorite school subjects?
PE and German. I wasn’t particularly athletic, and I think I chose the wrong course for my second language O-level. I got on well enough with French, and now think I should have done Spanish instead of German.

5. Have you ever had a favorite teacher? Why was he/she a favorite?
I guess it was probably Mr Macready, back in primary school. He taught me it was good to love books and that it was good to play with the English language. Yes, it’s true. The puns were his fault.

Grrr [cough] Grrr [cough] [cough] Grrr…

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on August 29, 2003

…as next door is burning huge piles of green ivy and other garden waste. And the wind is blowing the smoke right into the office window.

I’d go out, but I can’t as I’m doing phone interviews for a Guardian piece all day. And I don’t think I can take much more ventolin today.

It’s more annoying as these are just gardeners working for the nice neighbours who look after the cats, so there’s not much I can do about it anyway. I’d feel better about feeling bad about it if this was the work of TID.

September travellings

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on August 29, 2003

Going freelance and writing for The Guardian has had an effect on my profile in the world of technology journalism. More people want to talk to me, and so the next few weeks are going to involve a lot of travel. So I’m going to use this post as a placeholder so I can keep track of where I will be and when.

I’ll update it with flight details and the like as I get stuff sent to me.

I’m going to be in San Francisco at OracleWorld from the 7th to the 11th of September. I’m possibly in Amsterdam on the 16th and 17th learning about model driven architectures from Compuware, and I’ve just acepted an invitation to be back in the US for Openwave’s Messaging Anti-Abuse Conference from at least the 23rd to the 25th in Santa Barbara.

I know this going to mean missing a lot of stuff – I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to get rid of at least one Sylvian ticket for the RFH on the 25th, and possibly another for The H Band on the 26th. Hopefully I’ll be back and not too jetlagged for the AfroCelts on the 27th… I also won’t be at Second Monday, or the September BSFA.

The Great Blackout Of 2003 (Part 2)…

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on August 28, 2003

hit London this evening. Or at least parts of it. We only lost power in Putney for 30 minutes, but I know other areas were out for much longer. Unfortunately for Londoners it is a cold and wet night, so no chance for spontaneous parties for all those trapped on stalled trains and in the Tube…

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