Do not rocket while impaired…

Space TrippingSpace Tripping by Patrick Edwards
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Three stars-ish.

IF you’re looking for distant planets, space battles, far ranging corporate plots and drunk aliens doing the equivalent of “hold my beer” then this book is for you. It was amusing and a very quick read. I think I actually knocked it out in a day.

The reason this suffers in my opinion is that I have other drunken adventures that I am much more partial to. Totally not a “fair” thing to this author, but it is how I feel.

If you like this book and you’re looking for something else, you will probably very much enjoy the works of the Drunken Comic Book Monkeys in Scary Tales of Scariness (Fortress Publishing).

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Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom for Sale—Sold!Magic Kingdom for Sale—Sold! by Terry Brooks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think I read this once a long time ago. I suspect it didn’t fit with the sort of fantasy I was expecting at the time so I didn’t particularly remember it, but I picked it up again since it was a book group choice.

This actually falls directly into the category of “matters when you read it”. The main character is NOT the typical fantasy hero. He’s already had a lot of life and success in his career. He’s middle aged, not the mystery secret sixteen year old prince who’s been in hiding all his life. At this time in my life I really appreciated the difference in character.

Yes, there are other fantasy tropes in there that were kind of expected. Yes, there are some small hints of anachronism since the book was written over 30 years ago. None of those things bothered me and I really enjoyed the story this time. This may very well move up to the top of the Terry Brooks list for me.

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Justice

Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch, #1)Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of the best science fiction works I’ve read in a very long time. I really enjoyed this book. I understand why it garnered the praise that it did.

Taking the point of view character away from being a human is never easy, but splitting that character apart into the many places an AI can inhabit would be particularly challenging and the author handles it wonderfully.

There is a lot of discussion worthy stuff in here. IF you’re a fan of science fiction this is very much worth the read.

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Fiction fan

I’ve written reviews of Linda Nagata’s work before over at MilSciFi.com. The Red series is not the only work by her that I’ve read. She is one of the writers whose work I look at and think, “Damn it, she’s good. It’s almost not fair…”

And then I want to go out and see what she’s done next.

This post allows her to tell you a little about her latest – and I’m really looking forward to checking out her “big idea”:

The Last Good Man

Barbarian

Conan the Barbarian: The Complete CollectionConan the Barbarian: The Complete Collection by Robert E. Howard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Conan. It took a barbarian’s strength to push through this whole thing. It was a test of endurance for me. Not because I didn’t like the stories, just because there was so much of the same thing stacked up in one place!

This collection was assembled (as I understand it) from multiple novels that were not originally part of the same work. What happens when they are lumped together is that you get a repetition of phrasing you might not otherwise notice. Comparisons to wolves and tigers using the same descriptors gets really old – quickly.

I see clearly where the inspiration for Frazetta and so many others comes from. This is a cornerstone in the building that is modern fantasy. There are many, many things that clearly descend from this ancestor.

At the same time, it does have issues. IF you decide to take the challenge and plow through this whole thing, be prepared for turns of phrases that are out of date. Prepare for the use of language that has developed different connotations over the intervening eighty years or so – giving an odd flavor to the text despite the technically correct usage of certain words. Also be prepared for characters that are placed / labeled or otherwise called out based on their physical descriptions. Any non-white persons in this book are judged and categorized based on that fact. I don’t know if that was the opinion of the author or a shorthand sort of cheat. Why develop a villain when all I need to say is “he was of the darkest jungle with fuzzy hair and sharpened teeth”? It’s uncomfortable and makes certain aspects of the book less enjoyable for it. Females fall directly into either weak and lust worthy or strong and lust worthy – either category to be part of the conquest. There really are women of power in here, just don’t expect them to take on significant roles.

I would say it’s important to read this original Conan material to learn where so much of today’s fantasy comes from, but read it with the age and context in mind.

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Balticon 51

I made a quick note on Facebook about giving a longer and more detailed review of this year’s convention. IF you’re seeing this connected to FB – here it is!

I started going to Balticon back at number 27. Yup, that puts me at about 24 years for this one. Sounds impressive until you realize that I know at least one person (Hi Ray!) that’s been to them all. Yes, all of them. That’s impressive.

First and I think most importantly credit where credit is due. Programs this year were smooth. Really smooth, not simply as juxtaposed with the struggle of last year. Got my invitation early, got my survey and panels early, and the schedule was posted and available before the week of the convention. WELL DONE!

I had 4 panels and 2 book launch events over the weekend.

The panels I had were editing the short story, reading outside your genre for SFF writers, being a fan of problematic things and the xenoarchaeology road show.

I think editing the short story went relatively well. I also thing reading outside your genre went well – I did my best to toss ideas out there of things I’d read that I felt could be of interest to folks. I got the biggest reaction when I mentioned Devil in the White City as apparently some others have read it. All in all, not bad.

Being a fan of problematic things was going to be a contentious panel. Intellectually I knew this. Emotionally it took a lot bigger toll on me than I thought it might have. It was a difficult panel. I have written about this topic before (Your Protest May Vary published in Watch the Skies and again here at my site) and given the topic a great deal of consideration.
I thought I was prepared. I wasn’t. Part of it was the audience. There were a couple of attendees that talked over almost everyone for the duration of the panel. It can be a very personal subject, but I felt it was a disservice to the rest of the folks in the room to do what they did. The moderator struggled against them the entire time. The other struggle was sitting between two panelists with definite thoughts on the matter. I could feel tension just sitting there. I can say that S.M. Stirling impressed me with the depth of knowledge he could bring to hand without notes or references. While I don’t know that I shared his opinions, he recalled the specifics of an example I pulled from a very old novel. I pulled the example based on the clarity of the language that might show it to be problematic. He knew the context of the characters and brought all that out in defense of his position on the matter. Agree or not, he had that information rattling around upstairs. By the end of the hour I was just done. It took a lot of effort to stay level and calm for me in there – and it didn’t really have much to do with the topic itself.

I’ve really enjoyed attending the Xenoarchaeology road show in the past. The panel pretends to be archaeologists digging up long forgotten things from a human world. See something come out of the box and make up a great explanation for what it obviously is. I signed up to be a panelist on a whim for this one. It was an hour after the problematic panel, and being funny at the drop of a hat is not easy. Clever, maybe. Witty, perhaps on a good day but not for an hour straight. I don’t know that I’ll sign up to be on that panel again because I just don’t feel like I brought the humor that panel deserved. It was something of a let down to me. I was disappointed in myself, I can only hope the audience had a good time. I know I enjoyed what my fellow panelists came up with as much as the audience did. The running gag of “it’s clearly a ritual item…” was pretty funny.

The launch events were Fortress Publishing (TV Gods Summer Programming – available now) and E-spec books (DTF – Man and Machine – available now). The Fortress launch was wedged into the hour between the problematic panel and the road show. I couldn’t stay nearly as long as I wanted to, but I did get to sign a few books while I was there. The E-spec launch was a pretty big shin-dig. It took over the con suite for 2 hours. It was really well done and it looked like everyone involved had a really good time.

In between all this programmed goodness was the chance to play test a game for a friend. I can’t give out details but I can say I think I’ll be jumping on a copy when it comes out! Lots of fun trying to break the mechanics of it and stretch the rules to see where the holes show up.

Surprisingly, I didn’t come away from the weekend feeling the creative charge I normally do. I really enjoyed having dinner with friends. I liked sitting and chatting with people that I don’t get to see nearly enough. It’s a silly thing, but I was extra excited to recognize a ‘Sky High’ cosplay and earn the pink ribbon you can see in the picture (hey – the preferred term is hero support). Somehow I just didn’t feel that juice flow, that battery charging jolt I usually have when I get back to the house.

I would call this year a successful year even without that jolt. It’s always good to see old friends and add new ones. I’m going to dive into some projects that have been waiting for me while already plotting and planning for next year!

New Story!

Just in time for that perennial Summer launching Memorial Day weekend – Fortress Publishing presents : TV Gods – Summer Programming! 18 stories taking your favorite pantheons and mashing them up with memorable TV shows to allow hilarity to ensue. Only $16 and available from Fortress Publishing after 5-27-17.

I’m really looking forward to the book launch at this year’s Balticon!

My story “Somebody’s Got Talent” will be one of the stories in there! IF you want a little teaser – here’s the cover art:

All You Can Make Up

This article was previously published in Watch The Skies (I’ve been meaning to get it out here for a while now).

Rogue One is the latest installment of the Star Wars saga. It was the number one movie for a number of weeks. It will be remembered as a landmark film – particularly for visual effects. The effects are simply amazing. If you haven’t seen Rogue One yet, please consider yourself warned that I may spoil part of the film for you. I don’t think it’s particularly “spoilery” but some people might disagree.

Grand Moff Tarkin is in the movie.

How is that possible? I hear you ask, the actor that played his part in the original film died in 1994. It’s true. Peter Cushing, an actor with more than 130 film credits and star of many of the Hammer horror films did indeed pass away at the age of 81 back in 1994. Now, through the magic of visual effects he’s back on screen and acting again.

I’d like to tell you that was as much science fiction as the rest of the film franchise, but it’s not. We have landed firmly in a time when a person may be inserted into a picture, or a film and they don’t actually have to be there (or even alive) for that to happen. We can take footage of any person – however famous and change what their faces and voices do on screen.

Let that sink in for a moment.

If this were only about science fiction movies I don’t think it would be nearly the big deal that it is. Unfortunately the state of voice and image manipulation has reached a point where people can create an entire speech from a mere sampling of video that can be found on YouTube or from a digital creation of somebody that’s been dead for more than twenty years. There is no need for the person’s approval. There is no easy way to be certain what has been doctored and what has not been doctored. So far the people doing these things have been in the entertainment industry and have had the blessing of the actors or their estates. What if they didn’t?

I don’t want to seem alarmist about this technology. I actually like that Tarkin’s in the movie. It makes sense for the story. They had permission from the estate to do that (and presumably the estate got paid).

What if this tech was applied to a fake news story during an election cycle? What if it was applied to a public safety alert that wasn’t real? Think how people reacted to the broadcast of War of the Worlds. We have recently seen just how much money and how much influence supposed news sites can have on the average internet user. There are dozens upon dozens of stories that have no basis in fact that continue to swirl around the net. Now couple with that somebody being able to take the face swap technology and create fake news using old news conference footage and you have a recipe for a genuine disaster. Users – who might have a lower ethical standard than the folks at ILM, or who might have a specific agenda they want to push – can create anything they want and make it believable to the point of being impossible to refute without professional assistance. Want to say that Tom Cruise has admitted to being the second gunman in the Kennedy assassination? That can totally happen and the film footage and voice are becoming more and more believable. It will look like him and sound like him.

I really enjoyed Rogue One. The special effects were amazing. This will be a film that is noted in history for what it has done. My hope is that notability stays in the entertainment industry and is not the harbinger of something far more dangerous.

Go and see face swap and hear about voice additions/corrections:

https://petapixel.com/2016/03/21/face-swap-technology-getting-creepy/

https://www.engadget.com/2016/11/06/adobe-experiment-adds-words-to-recordings/

Article from Yahoo!

https://www.yahoo.com/movies/rogue-one-the-digital-grand-moff-tarkin-is-terrifying-for-all-the-wrong-reasons-203157451.html

Watch some background on making the effects happen:

http://io9.gizmodo.com/watch-how-ilm-brought-back-tarkin-and-leia-for-rogue-on-1790812003

Trampling

Trampling in the Land of Woe (The Patron Saints of Hell #1)Trampling in the Land of Woe by William L.J. Galaini
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Right up front – the author gave me a copy of this book in exchange for a review. I gave that copy away to somebody as a recommended read and bought my own so I could review it in any way I saw fit and not feel guilty about it.

And I don’t feel guilty at all.

Journey through Purgatory to Hell in a quest to get back to a loved one. Reach out because you know that somebody needs you. Sacrifice, suffer and depend on others to get to the one you love. Make that trip wrapped in emotion. That is the truth – emotion drives this story. Do not be put off by descriptions of hollowing out a person to use as a method of travel. You do know you’re headed to Hell, right?

I liked the characters and the setting. You don’t need a degree in theology to get this book. You don’t have to know Dante. While I’m certain those things help and give a little ‘bump’ to the reading experience this reads quickly and easily without those things.

I enjoyed Hephaestion as a character, but I liked some of the others more. I did relate and that made his lack of planning or his total blind spot easy to understand. I want to hear more about Boudica – there’s a lot to tell there (she’s cool!). I could see and visualize the setting easily with clear descriptions. The setting has a huge amount to offer. The description of the book includes that it is “steampunk” but I don’t know if that’s true or not. It is certainly an amalgamation of many levels of technology, but that really fits with the setting. New people arrive all the time… why wouldn’t they bring their version of war or suffering? There are unexplored powers here. There is darkness and light and everything in between.

This was an excellent book. IF you know what it is to feel the need to reach out to somebody you love because you know they need you, you will get this book. Go, read it. Buy many copies and give them out as gifts (journey to Hell as a Christmas gift? Why not?)

Join me in anticipation of the next book.

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Odd – that certainly covers it

OddjobsOddjobs by Heide Goody
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this one directly on the heels of “Mechanical Failure” and I think that timing helped. This book had some actual laugh out loud moments. The level of crazy was unexpected. I thought the idea of a secret government agency that handles monsters and such was an idea that had been played out. I was wrong. What if they know the end of the world is coming and they’re just trying to make it arrive in an orderly fashion? Sound absurd but like something you’d read? This book will be right up your alley.

I struggled with some of the Brit stuff. This book was not “translated” for Americans, so some of the names for things threw me. I figured them out from context most of the time, but it was still something that put me a bit off. IF you can live with that and want to read something funny (even the sociopath makes you want to root for her side) then go and check this out.

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