steuard: (lake)
Tuesday, January 17th, 2017 10:16 pm
[I’m making an effort to avoid serious spoilers, especially in the main body of these comments, but I’m sure there are little ones there and more in the list of specific thoughts that follows.]

A week or two ago, I finally finished reading The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin (as translated by Ken Liu). It was a fun story that touched on some neat science, and I quite appreciated the experience of reading fiction based on a rather different cultural background than my own. (The translator commented in his afterword that he had done his best to walk the fine line between an overly literal translation that failed to capture the author's sense and intent and an overly idiomatic translation that failed by purging everything that gave it its own sense of place and history. I think he was very successful.) I did have some issues with the structure of the tale itself, and over the course of the book I felt like the sci-fi elements went from “realistically plausible” to “well-done apart from some errors in the details” to “what the heck are you talking about?” So while I mostly enjoyed the book as a whole, a lot of its conclusion left me frustrated.

It was to some degree a humbling experience to read a story whose historical grounding and references (whether 50 years ago or 1500) were so, well, foreign to me. I had heard *of* some of the emperors mentioned, and about bits and pieces of the Cultural Revolution, but not remotely enough to feel oriented in the way that a person fluent in Chinese culture would. Would a Chinese reader have had the same "this is all madness" reaction to the various factions of Red Guards and others that I did, or did the author intend readers to feel sympathy toward some and not toward others? I was torn between feeling frustrated by those unclear moments and feeling excited by them (since I was learning something new, in just the right "organic" way). I'd estimate that about half of my moments of uncertainty along these lines were immediately addressed by a relevant translator's note filling in some cultural background. By and large, I really liked this aspect of the story.

As for the story itself, my impressions were mixed. I thought that a lot of the core conceptual premises were fresh and interesting: I haven’t read anything quite like it before. But there were also a lot of aspects that just didn’t work for me, for a variety of reasons. I’ve mused on some specifics down below, but the big issues for me were the main character’s lack of meaningful participation in the events of the story and a number of ways in which the behavior of characters or society seemed unrealistic or cliched.

I also had mixed impressions of the actual science/sci-fi elements of the story. One of Isaac Asimov's great strengths as a science fiction writer was his ability to build entire stories (or series of stories) around the consequences of a single, simple sci-fi premise: the Three Laws of Robotics, say, or the "Psychohistory" that shaped the Foundation. That same spirit of "let's really delve into the deep societal consequences of this sci-fi change" provides much of the richness and fascination of books by authors like Le Guin or Bujold, to name just a couple who leap to mind. Liu Cixin... does not work this way.

The early sci-fi elements (involving attempts to communicate at interstellar scales) were handled quite well with some clever, mostly plausible “new science” involved. A little later, the titular "three body" physics (and its in-story context) seemed well done on the whole, too. It's a really neat take on not just the dynamics involved, but how life might react to that. (I had minor to moderate issues with a handful of the details.) And then there’s the final reveal about “two protons” and their effects. I think there would be plenty of premises associated with those alone for about a dozen different sci-fi stories. Unfortunately, the science involved is nonsense even as a fictional new discovery, and the effects are so ridiculously overpowered that it seems to rip half a dozen gaping plot holes in the story in its attempt to explain earlier mysteries.

And with that, before I go on to chatter about specifics (which will tend to be more spoilery), I feel like I ought to close with a recommendation. Sadly, I’m torn on that. I suspect that some of my eye rolling near the end was just from being too close to the science involved, but some of the issues would likely grate on a lot of readers. The story and its structure are a bit spotty, too. Nevertheless, the novel premises and perspective are worthwhile and interesting. So I guess my final conclusion is, "Go not to the Elves for council, for they will say both no and yes."

A handful of random specifics about the story and its telling:

  • My biggest complaint about the story itself: much of the time, it felt like the main characters weren't really doing anything consequential. Rather, they were just on a roller coaster ride hearing about major historical events past and present, and scrambling to keep up. Even the main character's primary contribution to solving the climactic dilemma is saying "Oh, we've actually got a bunch of that back in my lab" after someone else proposes a strategy that would require a novel substance, and then watching others use it.

  • Maybe the description just didn't capture it for me, but the computer game in the story made no sense to me as a game. It sounded like an interestingly vivid simulation and teaching tool, and maybe a sort of participatory theater, but as presented within the story I just didn't buy it as something that players would be so drawn to (or more importantly, as something whose rules or goals they would understand, given the interface and explanation we were shown).

  • The secondary character who's "not a GOOD cop, but one heck of an effective one" and turns out to become a solid friend felt awfully close to a pure archetype, within his first few paragraphs on the page, and nothing ever happened to change that.

  • It was weird to me how we were introduced to the main character's wife and kid at one point and then he (and the author) proceed to show almost complete indifference to what they must be thinking or feeling at any future point (even as the main character practically has a mental breakdown, disappears overnight, and otherwise begins behaving very erratically).

  • There’s this weird assumption in the backstory that substantial fractions of the highly educated population of the world (and almost exclusively the intellectual elite) think humanity is hopeless and would be willing to basically sell out our entire species in one way or another. That just doesn’t fit with my experience at all. I can’t tell if this is a reflection of actual attitudes in Chinese society, or if it’s some sort of political statement by the author, or what.

  • The final confrontation with the most dangerous (human) faction felt almost perfunctory to me (gruesomely so). I guess that's exactly what they were aiming for, but I felt like they'd spent a fair bit of time developing a villain and a villainous organization, only to see the whole thing resolved completely tidily in a few paragraphs.

And a handful of specifics about the science:

  • As noted, I thought that the titular "three body" physics (and its in-story context) were generally well done. (Apart from the weird "invisible stellar outer atmosphere" thing that went with it, anyway.) It's a really neat take on not just the dynamics involved, but how life might react to that. Given the title and the physics I know, I guessed pretty quickly what was going on when it first came up, and even began to guess where it was going on. That said, some of the various "hot disaster" scenarios described felt just entirely "off" to me, on a "wait, that wouldn't happen, or at least not that way" level. (And I'm pretty sure that the most common fate of small bodies coupled to a 3+ body system like this is not "collided with something" but rather "hurled out of the system". Also, I don't think there's any way to deduce the past history of such a chaotic system in any detail, certainly not well enough to deduce all the details of its structure in the distant past.)

  • The final twist/explanation involving the four protons (or rather, "protons") just plain upset me. Not only was practically everything about the science of it nonsense, but the technology described was so insanely powerful that I'm pretty sure it could have solved all of the aliens' problems on its own, without any need to interact with the folks on Earth at all. (These last bits are especially spoilery.)

    • Nonsense: First, a proton is well established to be a composite particle, no matter what the ultimate theory of nature turns out to be, but every way I can try to make sense of the higher dimensional stuff can only sensibly apply to fundamental particles. Second, one of the essential properties of quantum systems like a proton is their indistinguishability: there is literally nothing you can do to a proton even in principle to make it different than any other proton: they are absolutely and unalterably identical. (This is a necessary ingredient for almost every system obeying "Fermi-Dirac statistics", a category including more or less half of all quantum systems.) That means that no matter what wacky extra dimensional extent it might have, is simply couldn't work to "paint on" even a serial number, much less to embed an entire functioning AI computer. Third, quantum entanglement doesn't work the way it's presented here: you can't use it for instantaneous communication at all, and I'm pretty sure that even if you didn't care about "instantaneous" two pairs of entangled protons could only carry two bits of information, total. This isn't an ongoing high-bandwidth communications channel! Fourth, even if they sent these "protons" to Earth somehow, it's clearly implied that the protons themselves have some sort of near-lightspeed propulsion to move them back and forth around the planet. What is it, and what's its energy source?

    • Solving problems: When the computer circuits are being etched(?) into the world-enveloping 2D-expanded protons, the surface blocks any and all light from reaching the planet below: the world was frozen as surely as in the long dark stretches of a Chaotic Era. It seemed pretty thoroughly impermeable! But... isn't that exactly what they would need to protect their world from close calls falling near a sun? (Heck, it might have even protected them from a close call with a solar atmosphere.) And the story provides evidence that these dimensionally altered protons can act as parabolic mirrors to focus sunlight, too: they might even be able to provide warmth during cold parts of Chaotic Eras, too! (Even if they can't reliably predict their planet's orbit decades in advance, they ought to be able to manage a few weeks or at least days: enough to be able to reconfigure their planet-sized superprotoncomputers for whatever protection is necessary. [But then, if they can reconstruct their solar system back to millions(?) of years earlier in enough detail to deduce that it once had many more planets, why can't they predict its future as successfully?]) Or as an offensive weapon, why worry about subtly tricking human scientists to keep our tech level down when they could just set the things to enclose our whole planet and cut off all sunlight for, say, a week or so? That would probably not do irreparable harm to the ecosystem, but it would probably devastate crop yields worldwide and lead to the total collapse of modern society, leaving our planet ripe for the picking. The short version is that these things are ridiculously overpowered, enough so to more or less break the plausibility of the rest of the story.

steuard: (lake)
Sunday, December 28th, 2014 05:24 pm
During our travel to and from Nebraska this Christmas, I finally read Robin McKinley's latest novel, Shadows. It's an (urban) fantasy story set in a small city in "Newworld", which seems to be a fairly close copy of modern America (to the extent that highschoolers still read books like "Anna Karenina", which of course must have been written somewhere in the Slavic parts of "Oldworld"). The setting is intriguing: two or three generations earlier, the government of Newworld banned everything to do with magic, and required all children with magical ability to have the gene for it medically removed. Now, when dangerous "cohesion breaks" appear (due to intrusions of other worlds), instead of magicians handling the problem the Newworld military rushes in to contain and close them using scientific equipment. That's the setting; the story itself is about a high school senior who can't stand her new stepfather and the unsettling way that the shadows around him seem much more alive and threatening than they have any right to be.

I'm not quite sure what to say about the book. I liked the setting, both the parts that were spelled out in detail and the parts that were just hinted at: it felt similar in some ways to the setting of Sunshine, though with more of an "oppressive government" vibe rather than Sunshine's "post-war recovery" feel. I liked the characters, too: the high school kids seemed realistically done (though I was sad that the lead character was was so down on math), and the adults were a fine supporting cast (as seen through high school eyes). Even the general shape of the story was good.

But overall, I think that the pacing just felt a bit off. That became clear to me when the action was just on the verge of taking off and I realized that I was already 2/3 of the way through the book. In terms of the ebb and flow of the story, this whole book feels a lot like Sunshine might if that book ended just after Rae woke up at home the morning after her escape (the end of "Part 1": its first third). The slow initial pace may have also contributed to a bit too much telegraphing of some "mysteries" that are revealed midway through the story. I can't begrudge the attention that McKinley gives to establishing the characters and their relationships, which she does quite well, but I really wish we had an Act 2 and Act 3 to realize a bit of the potential that's hastily suggested in the final few pages of the novel. (I might feel more content to accept that unfinished business if McKinley ever wrote sequels.)

So what's my take-home review? If you enjoy McKinley's writing, Shadows is worth reading. I'd place it happily in the second tier of her work, below the Damar books and Sunshine but clearly above, say, Chalice. It's fun, but I wish it had been just a little bit more than that.

[spoiler aside] )
steuard: (lake)
Monday, June 30th, 2014 07:58 am
I recently finished reading a web serial called "Worm". (In other news, I forgot to bring any fun books to read to last week's physics conference.) I'm not sure what to say about it, or even whether to recommend it, but it was a heck of a read. Worm is a very long superhero story whose main character is a 15-year-old girl with the random and not obviously useful ability to control nearby bugs. The quality is a bit uneven, it's often pretty dark, and there were times that it was outright annoying or just too darn long. But its fictional world is quite good at aiming for "the inner consistency of reality", which is important to me, and it weaves a complex and (I think) satisfying story within that setting.

I obviously enjoyed Worm enough to read all of its ~1.8 million words on and off over the course of half a year or so (or more?). (That's something like 10-11 long novels, or almost 6 Wheel of Time books). I cared enough about the characters to want to know how things turned out for them, and enough about the fictional world to want to find out what was really going on. Many chunks of the plot were gripping (both on the scale of scenes and chapters and on the scale of novel-length arcs). It's an enjoyable story.

But on the other hand, there were multiple points along the way where I almost stopped reading (or where I did stop, only for unsatisfied curiosity to suck me back in weeks later). There are several points early on when the main character makes choices that seem blatantly at odds with her well-established goals (which may be forgivable in-story because she's so young, but that didn't make it less annoying to me as a reader). The pacing is inconsistent: in some places the character development and action flow beautifully, but in others it feels like a single plot arc is dragging out about twice as long as it needs to, and in others (well, one other) it skips right over a vast expanse of time that really ought to have been fleshed out more. The story could definitely benefit from a round or two of revision, and probably some professional editing.

There were a few times when Worm's tone rubbed me the wrong way, too. Especially near the start, there's a significant vibe of "adults don't care enough to help" that felt unfairly broad and lacking in nuance to me. Later on, there are a handful of minor places where the story seems to buy in to juvenile anti-feminism. (But then you keep reading, and close to the end there's a completely tangential moment of explicit opposition to rape culture thrown in out of nowhere, so I was left more neutral on that score than I expected to be.) And it sometimes feels too cynical about its people: nobody's perfect, sure, but I wish more characters in the story were more or less decent.

Overall, though, the underlying ethos of the story was right up my alley. A big theme is watching characters find ways to succeed by thinking carefully and making the most of small advantages. Sometimes (sometimes) that's even enough to overcome opposition that is intrinsically stronger or more politically powerful. Even more central to the story is moral ambiguity: there are frequent questions of ends vs. means, conflicting loyalties to family, friends, and society, and it's very rare that there are any easy answers. Even a lot of the worst "villains" have some degree of depth. And the thing that makes all that work for me is simple: the main character is trying to do the best she can for the people around her, even when her choices aren't what they ought to be.

So should you read it? I really couldn't say. I don't even have a good answer to how far you should read before you decide whether it's for you. But there are things about the story that I think will stick with me for a while.
steuard: (Tolkien)
Monday, July 30th, 2012 10:26 pm

Peter Jackson confirmed today that he will make The Hobbit into three movies, rather than two as formerly planned. To my eye, this is a spectacularly bad idea. Why, you ask?

Good question... )

EDIT: I just saw a wonderfully concise statement of the issue elsewhere online: "Bilbo's reaction to the announcement of a 3rd movie was actually already quoted in The Lord of the Rings: 'I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.'"

steuard: (Default)
Saturday, May 12th, 2012 09:31 pm
  1. Months after changing from Pampers to Huggies, I have belatedly realized that every one of my daughter's diapers is covered with Pooh.

  2. I've reached the conclusion that "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish" is an innovative science fiction story about the social and economic impacts on modern human culture of the unexpected opening of some sort of inter-dimensional portal and the mass migration of its inhabitants into our world, as seen by two typical children.

steuard: (Default)
Sunday, April 17th, 2011 02:04 pm
As I've said before, Robin McKinley has written some of my very favorite books[1], so I've been very much looking forward to reading Pegasus, her most recent novel. Now that I have... I'm honestly not sure how to judge it. I like the world and the characters, but this is very clearly not a complete story: it's the first part of one book, in much the same way that The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers are. So I could grumble that "Not much happened" or that "The pace was slow", but I don't think that I felt frustrated in those ways until I hit that last page and knew that I had to wait to find out what happened next.
As usual, I'll stick details behind a cut. )
So I'm not sure where that leaves me as far as a recommendation to others. Sadly, I suspect that I may leave it at "Hold off on reading this until the rest of the story is published." Pegasus has all the makings of a worthy tale, but it simply isn't finished, and I think it will be more enjoyable once it is.

[1] McKinley's Damar books (The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown) were in my constant rereading rotation from around 5th-9th grade, and Sunshine is still one of my favorite books from the past five or ten years. All three are worth reading, and the first two especially are fantastic for kids as soon as they're able to read them.
steuard: (Default)
Saturday, February 5th, 2011 01:57 pm
Apparently, Russian scientists are mere meters away from drilling into a lake buried under two miles of ice. A vast and mysterious lake, buried deep in Antarctica, that has been isolated from the outside world for 35 million years. The team of ambitious scientists has ventured into this remote region of the now-barren continent to discover whether the lake might still be home to ancient, unknown forms of life, even as many of their colleagues elsewhere say that the risks are too great and that it shouldn't be done.

Someone needs to ship these folks a copy of At the Mountains of Madness, quick!

In other news, the Kepler orbital planet-hunting telescope recently announced it has found 1200 possible planets orbiting other stars, including 54 in the "habitable zone" of their parent stars (five of which aren't far from Earth's size). These discoveries haven't remotely gotten old for me, and it will be absolutely incredible to watch these numbers get refined and the world's count of Earth-like candidates continue to rise. It could end up being absolutely maddening if we find that we have absolutely no way to ever get there, though.
steuard: (Tolkien)
Friday, December 31st, 2010 10:10 pm

I finished reading Cryoburn, the latest Miles Vorkosigan novel, not that long ago. It was... fine. But in the end, the thought that came to my mind after reading it was this:

I did begin a story placed about 100 years after the Downfall, but it proved both sinister and depressing. ... I found that even so early there was an outcrop of revolutionary plots, about a center of secret Satanistic religion; while Gondorian boys were playing at being Orcs and going round doing damage. I could have written a 'thriller' about the plot and its discovery and overthrow - but it would be just that. Not worth doing.

That's J.R.R. Tolkien (in Letter #256) discussing his abandoned story The New Shadow. From the little of it that he actually wrote, I'm inclined to agree with his assessment: I expect that I would have read and more or less enjoyed the book if he'd finished it, but I doubt that it would have held a candle to The Lord of the Rings or even The Hobbit.

And that's more or less where I am with Cryoburn. It's a perfectly good mystery novel, and I can't complain too much about further development of a world and characters that I care about. But while "not worth doing" is probably too harsh, I still don't think it said anything strikingly new about any of them. (I half suspect that it was shooting to make some sort of broad statement about fathers and sons, but if so it didn't really click with me.)

steuard: (Default)
Sunday, October 3rd, 2010 12:22 am
Kim and I recently agreed that our "We should paint first" excuse not to unpack our many boxes of books had ceased to be viable. For various reasons, painting didn't happen this summer, and we don't foresee it in the immediate future. So at long last, we finally buckled down today (Eek! Yesterday, now!) and got everything unpacked and sorted.[1]

It feels really good to have a wall of our books to look at rather than a wall of empty shelves with various junk scattered around them. Honestly, it's done wonders for making the living room feel welcoming. And of course there's the obvious benefit: we can finally reach all of our books when we want them!

[1] We decided at the last minute to go ahead and shelve all of our fiction together, rather than splitting out the sci-fi/fantasy as we have in the past. As for non-fiction, we beat our heads against it for a while and eventually settled on some reasonable categories. But we were awfully close at one point to calling [ profile] ukelele and asking for advice on the Dewey Decimal System.
steuard: (physics)
Tuesday, July 20th, 2010 12:44 pm
In research papers, I'm very clear on the proper protocols for citing previous work and giving attribution to those whose ideas I'm building on. But I've always been enormously less clear on what the right moral and legal procedures are on the teaching side of my job.

For example, I usually write exam problems from scratch (or substantially altered from someone else's inspiration) but I have the impression that it's fairly common for people to simply grab problems out of other textbooks. Do the usual academic standards of proper attribution apply? (I've only rarely seen professors provide citations in their exam problems. Identifying the source could even invite integrity problems if it's a take-home exam.) In a research paper, I'd want to cite the source that gave me the idea even if I changed it completely when I used it, but when writing exams or homework that convention doesn't seem to hold at all.

I've been puzzled for years about similar issues with textbooks. How do you write a textbook for something like introductory physics without inevitably stealing ideas and approaches from the zillions of textbooks that you've used or read in the past? In research, most textbook-level facts aren't given citations at all, but what about specific analogies or ways of explaining a topic? What about a novel choice of order for the topics in the course? Did the second physics text that included chapter summary pages have to cite the first? (Or going farther, did its publisher risk a copyright lawsuit?)

I assume that major publishers have legal departments that are familiar with all the formal standards for that sort of thing. But if there are (or someday are) efforts to write freely available textbooks independently, how do the contributors deal with this sort of thing?
steuard: (Default)
Wednesday, June 16th, 2010 06:41 pm

I've enjoyed reading a lot of David Weber's books over the past few years. They're not fine literature, but they're usually fun (well, not Storm from the Shadows: ugh). That being said, I just spotted the following description for his upcoming novel Out of the Dark:

Earth is conquered. The Shongairi have arrived in force, and humanity’s cities lie in radioactive ruins. In mere minutes, over half the human race has died.

Now Master Sergeant Stephen Buchevsky, who thought he was being rotated home from his latest tour in Afghanistan, finds himself instead prowling the back country of the Balkans, dodging alien patrols and trying to organize the scattered survivors without getting killed.

His chances look bleak. The aliens have definitely underestimated human tenacity—but no amount of heroism can endlessly hold off overwhelming force.

Then, emerging from the mountains and forests of Eastern Europe, new allies present themselves to the ragtag human resistance. Predators, creatures of the night, human in form but inhumanly strong. Long Enemies of humanity… until now. Because now is the time to defend Earth.

The description sounds like vintage Weber, right up until I broke down laughing in the middle of the final paragraph. Seriously, folks. Hasn't this particular fad run its course yet? (Also, this sounds typical of Weber to the point of parody: it's exactly the blurb I would have come up with if someone had jokingly asked what sort of vampire story he'd write.)

When I shared this with Kim, she was immediately reminded of an amusing brief story on the Onion recently: 'Minotaurs The New Vampires' Says Publishing Executive Desperate To Find New Vampires.

[It sounds like Out of the Dark was originally a short story. One reviewer described it as follows: "A fast-paced, well-written story up until the last two pages, when it goes completely bonkers with an ending that explodes the corn-o-meter. If you can swallow the premise of the finale, this is a fun story." Sounds about right.]
steuard: (Default)
Sunday, May 9th, 2010 05:06 pm
I'm not usually that excited about fanfic, but [ profile] ukelele recently pointed me to a fabulous story: Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. The title nicely summarizes the basic idea: what if Harry's childhood had been spent learning science and logical reasoning instead of being abused and locked in a cupboard? The early chapters are quite funny, as Harry asks a bunch of the questions that I would have asked in his place (and many that I wouldn't have, especially at age 11: there's a lot of me in this Harry, but he's probably smarter than I am). There are some funny personal interactions, too; a particularly good exchange shows up in Chapter 5.

But by the most recent installments, a real story has been taking shape (though the earlier chapters were thoroughly laying its groundwork). It's far from complete and it will probably wind up being at least a full novel's worth once it's finished, but I'm thoroughly enjoying it. Have a look!

Edit: Just to be clear, there's a lot of this Harry that's not me, too. : )
steuard: (Default)
Monday, May 3rd, 2010 12:07 am

You might have thought that I'd be reasonably net-connected during a "Science Fiction and Open Source Software Convention", but no. There were a few issues with the Penguicon wireless, but really I just had more interesting things to do with my time. A few especially memorable tidbits:

  • Tom Smith's music is a lot of fun.
  • Great panel with four authors (Tobias S. Buckell, Jim C. Hines, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Steve Piziks) discussing the Google Books settlement. Take home messages: Authors like the goal but loathe how Google pursued it; the process behind the current settlement had massive flaws that may get the whole thing thrown out; one cause of the mess is stupidly extended US copyright law.
  • I played (and won) a game of Munchkin with Eric S. Raymond (among other people).

This was my first con, so a fair bit of the experience was just getting oriented to how the whole thing worked. (Important hint: Figure out which panel/event rooms are small, and get to those early.) I went to a lot of nifty panels and other cool stuff (as well as some less nifty and/or cool bits), and I kinda sorta met some neat people. All in all, a positive experience, and I think I'll have an easier time getting into the swing of things at my next con.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, I sadly never made it to an Open Filk night to sing my Silmarillion song. There was always something else fun at the same time, and they'd always wrapped up by the time I was free. Maybe next con. (I'll have to polish up a backing track a bit more next time, anyway: Audacity seems great for that, so thanks, [ profile] minorninth!)

steuard: (Default)
Thursday, January 7th, 2010 11:47 pm
I'm not usually a big horror fan (though I believe I've read all of Lovecraft's fiction, and a reasonable amount of Poe), but after hearing a number of recommendations I finally read World War Z by Max Brooks. The short review is that I quite enjoyed it: yes, it's got gore and terror and creeping doom, but I thought it did a really good job of presenting a well-developed alternative world, and despite the horror it still winds up feeling very positive in tone.

The long review is here, for those who are interested. )
steuard: (Default)
Saturday, December 26th, 2009 04:14 pm

I've recently read a couple of books that in one way or another explore the introduction of advanced technology into a less developed world. Island in the Sea of Time by S.M. Stirling is an alternate history story set in Earth's past, while Off Armageddon Reef by David Weber is a sci-fi story set on a human colony world that has abandoned technology.

Only subject the interested to all this text... )

Short summary: Island in the Sea of Time is an interesting read even though it's frustrating at times; I may eventually read its sequels. But I wouldn't recommend Off Armageddon Reef, and I have no real interest in following it up.

steuard: (Default)
Saturday, December 19th, 2009 12:06 pm

Some of Robin McKinley's books have been favorites of mine for years. Her Damar books were second only to Tolkien when I was a kid (and they're still enjoyable today), and Sunshine is fantastic (even to a non-vampire-fan like me). After asking for reviews of some of her recent books not long ago, I discovered that my local library did have them after all. Here are my thoughts about Chalice and Dragonhaven now that I've read them.

Apparently I'm incapable of writing even a simple book review concisely. )
steuard: (Default)
Saturday, November 14th, 2009 10:46 pm
I've been a fan of Robin McKinley for years; her Damar books were some of my very favorites when I was a kid and I still come back to them from time to time. More recently, I thought that Sunshine was absolutely fantastic. I'm not usually much of a fan of vampire stories, but these vampires fit into such a richly imagined world that it works beautifully.

Over the past year or two, I've been very slowly catching up on the rest of her books. The biggies that I haven't read yet are Dragonhaven and Chalice (Spindle's End, too, but I'm only so-so on her fairytale retellings). Has anyone out there read them? I've heard some mixed reviews, and they aren't at my local library. I've been trying to be more willing to occasionally buy things for myself (even if I'm not 100% sure that I'll like them), but I figure some encouragement could help. Which one should I try first?
steuard: (Default)
Friday, July 27th, 2007 06:46 pm
I finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows a few days ago, so I thought I'd take a few minutes to follow the herd and share some of my impressions. (Kim and I were lucky to get a copy so soon: we're waiting to buy it until the paperback, but the library was able to get us a copy on Sunday.) My general reaction to the book (and to the series) was positive: it was fun, and the final installment came together much better than I feared it would. I think that it will actually be easiest to organize my more detailed impressions by character; I'll put that behind a cut.

Lots of comments... )

Hmm. I see that I'm still incapable of expressing myself at all succinctly. (I do better after about four rounds of editing.) But I figured I'd share all those thoughts once and for all, rather than commenting repeatedly and at length on everyone else's Potter posts.
steuard: (physics)
Monday, July 23rd, 2007 12:09 pm
First the spoilers appeared on internet fan forums and image archives. Then they showed up in the newspaper. But have they now spread to, the online physics (etc.) preprint archive? This morning, a high energy theory article appeared with the title "Dyon Death Eaters"! Is nowhere safe?!

In the end, the paper's title seems to be quite a stretch. Dyons, as I'm sure everyone knows :), are fundamental particles with more than one type of charge (imagine a magnetic monopole that also has an electric charge, for example). The paper talks a lot about certain types of dyon and their decay modes. But the words "death" and "eat" appear only in the title and there's not even passing mention of Rowling or of Harry Potter, so I'm guessing that "death eaters" is somehow just supposed to refer to the dyons' "death" as they decay (or maybe to the lack of death for their stable decay products?). Just cashing in on the current craze, I guess. But this does not meet my usual standards for bad physics puns. :)
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Friday, July 20th, 2007 10:49 am
I don't follow the comic "Home on the Strange", but a link to a couple of its strips showed up recently on the Bad Astronomy Blog that I read. It's a conversation between a character from the strip and a Jehovah's Witness at the door, and Kim and I got a particular kick out of it because of the DVDs we've been watching lately. She suggested I should pass along the link, so here you go: the beginning of the conversation and the rest of it.