Short Stories About Tiny Tasks

I have no idea how this wound up on my Kindle. I’m just gonna assume it’s because it was free?
Anyhow, it was a bit of a weird read. It’s from what I mentally refer to as the “deep archives” of my Kindle- stuff that I downloaded a long time ago in a burst of “oh my god I’ve got nothing to read” and then forgot about. The weird bit is how clearly dated it is – it felt more dated than books I’ve got from 200 years ago do.
Technology is hard to write about, because it gets obsolete so fast. And when you’re writing for a blog,1 you’re writing for now, not later, so a lot of the historical context of what you’re talking about can be ignored. But if you make a ‘book’ out of those posts, without editing anything to add that context back in… well, a lot is missing.
So, yeah- a short review for a short book. It was an interesting look at the brief ‘crowdsourcing’ thing, but I think we’re pretty well along into the downward trend of that one, now that AI is good enough. Yay, future.

  1. Context: the book is composed of a bunch of blog posts from the Microtasks blog. I think that’s the name of the blog, at least. 

A Soul for Trouble

This book just didn’t quite know what genre it wanted to be. It was almost a romance novel, but the fantasy setting and storyline was a bit too well-developed for that. But it’s also not quite a fantasy novel, because there was a good bit more romance than you get from that. But hey, pushing the boundaries of genres is what makes things fun, so I’m not really complaining.1
So, down to the normal business of my book reviews: trying to explain the plot without actually spoiling anything important. The titular character, Trouble (her real name is Arden, but as literally everyone in the book will tell you, ‘Trouble’ is more accurate) is a Main Character. Not precisely the term she’d use for herself, but she’s a blonde-haired blue-eyed orphan girl living in a town of brown-haired brown-eyed Generic Background Characters. Then a crazy old guy shows up, followed by a Tall Dark and Handsome stranger. With a pet wolf. Trouble establishes herself as a Strong Independent Woman as well as a Nice Person, and gives the crazy old dude some food, since he’s just stumbled into the inn where she works and all. Part of a brief conversation later, he’s killed, and his dying breath is the titular Soul.
At which point I’ll turn down my sarcasm a bit, because it actually got interesting after that. The Soul isn’t the old guy’s soul – it’s the incorporeal Loku, a character best described as “I’m aware that Loki is in the public domain, but Disney owns Marvel now so I don’t want to risk a lawsuit.”2 He’s the local god of chaos, and about a “we refer to them as the Ancients” ago, he tried to end the world. The mages of the neighboring country3 worked with the rest of the gods to stop that, with the end result that Loku’s body was destroyed and his soul became an immortal people-possessing… green cloud? Dev, the Tall Dark and Handsome guy – actually an elf, we find out – from earlier was supposed to be protecting Crazy Old Guy, and is the capital-P Protector. Or is it Guardian? Whichever.
Of course, all this explaining doesn’t happen for a while – what actually happens after Old Guy gets a cursed dagger to the back is a rather cinematic fight scene – Trouble collapses, Dev grabs her, and then suddenly there’s zombies everywhere. At which point Dev, being entirely reasonable, burns the building down4 and runs the hell away. Because, y’know, fighting a necromancer is hard enough when you’re not carrying a collapsed pretty girl.
From there, it’s a fun little romp across this fantasy kingdom, spending more time on the character relationships than it does on the fighting. Which was kinda cool, actually – like I said, blending genres can be a good thing. I mean, yes, the amount of unresolved sexual tension in the book is ridiculous, and there’s a few scenes where I was like “either write the sex scene you clearly want to write or gracefully allude to it having already happened, this is getting ridiculous.” But language-wise there’s nothing that would shock, like, the average high-schooler.5
So yeah, pretty good book! As of my writing this, I think it’s free on Amazon, so go for it.

  1. Well, I’m complaining a little bit, but if I ever stop complaining you can reasonably assume that I’ve died. 
  2. Hey, I said I’d turn the sarcasm down a bit, not that I’d turn it off. 
  3. The one that isn’t stupid and weird about magic. 
  4. Technically, I think the wolf did it – he’s a Fire Wolf, with the ability to… burst into flames. And the super-imaginative name of “Cinder.” Dev, you are a 300-year-old elfin mage-knight. How are you still so unimaginative. 
  5. Don’t show any of it to a middle-schooler, though, if only because the sound of their scandalized giggling will make you want to punch something. 

Playlist of the Month: April 2016

Oh man I need there to have been more of April, I’m not done with things yet.
5AM – Amber Run
I Need My Girl – The National
Your Hand In Mine – Explosions In The Sky1
On Your Knees – Matthew Mayfield
Team (Lorde Cover) – Matthew Mayfield
Midnight – Lane 8
You Can’t Save Me – Johnny Stimson
But Now A Warm Feel Is Running – Fhin
House for You – LOYAL
Maps For the Getaway – Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness
I Feel The Weight – Miike Snow
Smoke Filled Room (Acoustic) – Mako
Afterlife – XYLØ
SCRAM – Mogwai
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea – XYLØ
Fat Man – Mogwai
America – XYLØ
Lou Lou – Albin Lee Meldau
Communicate – The Dunwells
Black and White Movies – Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness
Tangle Formations – Explosions In The Sky2
Disintegration Anxiety Explosions In The Sky
I’m Not Right – XY&O
Hallucinations – dvsn
Logic of a Dream – Explosions In The Sky
Flare Gun – Woodkid
Dusk Talks – Woodkid
Sorry – LISS3
Tracker – Woodkid
Que Te Mate el Desierto – Woodkid
Weak Force – Mogwai
The Infidelity of Language – Steve Benjamins4
Solitude – M83
Infinite Orbit – Explosions In The Sky
Are You a Dancer? – Mogwai
Land of All – Woodkid5
I’ve Fallen For You – Tom Redwood
Wilderness – Explosions In the Sky
Jump – Woodkid
The Ecstatics – Explosions In the Sky
Bitterness Centrifuge – Mogwai
Shoot Them Down – Woodkid
We Know Where You Go – Blue October
Hey Now – The Dunwells
Break Ground – Blue October
Driver – Blue October
Heart Go Bang – Blue October
Houston Heights – Blue October
Home (Tim Palmer Mix) – Blue October7
Jericho – Westerman8
Cara Mia Addio – Aperture Science Psychoacoustics Laboratory910

  1. The “Friday Night Lights” variant. 
  2. Oh man I am so happy about this album 
  3. Note: this link is to the explicit version. 
  4. I just really love that name for a song. 
  5. This whole soundtrack is pretty great, actually. 
  6. This was hilariously hard to find the Amazon link to – their database apparently isn’t unicode-safe. Weird. 
  7. I’d call this my favorite song off of the album so far, but I am so excited about this album. I love Blue October. 
  8. Soundcloud link, as I couldn’t find it on Amazon. Which I’m not happy about – Soundcloud doesn’t allow artists to monetize very easily, while Amazon is just like “sure, we’ll sell your stuff for a small cut.” 
  9. I wrote a paper about this song for a class – might publish that here, actually, it was pretty interesting. And it’s just a delightfully weird song! 
  10. This one’s free to download – you can get the entire soundtrack off their site! 

The Vampire of Northanger

I almost didn’t wind up reviewing this one. Which, as per my weird set of rules about writing reviews, is a way of saying I almost didn’t wind up finishing this book.
I’d actually started writing a sort of review in my head, because Bryce Anderson is an author that I quite like – he wrote The Improbable Rise of Singularity Girl, a book which I loved, and we’re actually mutual followers on Twitter. So, at about 10% of the way through the book,1 when I was almost to the point of giving up on it, I was quite sad. “I wanted to like this book,” the post explaining my failure to read it would’ve begun.2 At that point, I had nothing really wrong with the book – it just wasn’t the sort of thing I enjoy reading. I was kept there by two things, foremost of which was the introduction to the book. Again, normally I don’t read introductions, but as I started to skim past it a few things caught my eye, and I read a random paragraph of the introduction, realized it wasn’t the sort of introduction I’m normally wary of, and went back to read the whole thing. It’s a hilarious piece of work: the ‘description of the writer’ bit makes mention of the fact that the introduction was written by someone who is paid “a handsome living” by the endowment of a chair at school that no longer exists. “As a public service, he can often be found on the current grounds of the former school, laying traps for feral students and attempting to educate whomever is ensnared. He assures us the process is entirely humane.”
The second thing keeping me there was, again, loyalty to a writer who I know to have proved themselves admirably in the past.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to write that “I have failed at reading this book” post, because the book picked up quite well from there – it was a bit of a long, slow start, but then, I enjoy everything Diana Wynne Jones has written, and her books have a plot diagram that looks like a wide sawtooth: a long, slow build to a beautiful crescendo, which takes place ten pages from the end of a 400-page book.
The Vampire of Northanger had a rather similar structure, I could say, and did the same sort of thing once past that initial 10% “I can barely go on” mark: I found myself unable to put down this book which I’d been barely able to hold up before. The exact turning point, I can demark quite easily: the introduction of Emily. He’s a lovely character, a dog made into a bit of an incompetent hellhound, and it was at this point that I realized the book wasn’t going to be just a Jane Austen novel with the backdrop slightly changed.3
And from there, the book was off. I’ve a phrase stuck in my head, which was planted there when a friend asked what I was reading, then set upon looking for reviews: “a delightful, violent romp through supernatural England.” That’s pretty accurate, if I do say so myself, and I wish I’d thought of it first, but alas.
(Here, I’ll point out how visibly my writing style has been impacted by spending so much time reading a book in the more Victorian style; the voice in my head is speaking with a rather snooty Oxford accent at the moment, and I can hear it sniff with disdain every time I try to use a modern colloquialism. Hopefully this fades soon.)

So, my final opinion on the book: a slow start, which I’ll ask the reader to power through, after which you discover a lovely adventure novel, with a good bit of mockery coming from the narrator, mostly directed at the kind-to-the-point-of-naïve4 protagonist. The other characters are delightful, once they get into the stride of the story, and perhaps my favorite bit of the whole thing was in the very end of the book when the protagonist finally figured out the blindingly obvious secret and basically sat down and said “well, I’m dumb.”
Seriously, it was quite a good book. Go have a read.

  1. Thank you Kindle, for telling me precisely how much of a book I’ve read 
  2. Like I said, normally I don’t acknowledge books that failed to hold my interest long enough for me to read them, but I felt I at least owed that much to Mr. Anderson. 
  3. To my readers who enjoy the writings of Jane Austen: I don’t mean to insult her, I’ve just come to terms with the fact that the style of her writings are not the sort of thing I enjoy. There are, I’m sure, a good amount of people who would love to read “a Jane Austen novel with the backdrop slightly changed.” This is not quite the book for you. 
  4. Yes, I’m aware that ‘naive’ and ‘naïve’ are just alternate spellings for the same word: nonetheless, I think the second looks better, and I just enjoy having excuses to type an umlaut, okay

The Iron Wyrm Affair

For some reason, AutoCorrect thinks that I’m somehow managing to mistype ‘warm’ as ‘wyrm’ and I’m rather curious about what kind of keyboard my laptop thinks I’m using.
Anyhow, this book was delightful. I’ll admit to a good bit of suspicion at the beginning, because it opened like it was going to be the most blatant Sherlock Holmes rip-off in the history of time. Fortunately, I was disabused of that notion very quickly: Archibald Clare, though still very much a Sherlock Holmes figure, is just one of a number of people with similarly logical minds. In this version of Britain, such genii1 are common enough that they have a classification – mentath – and a registration system by which they are recommended for various jobs. Interesting, I thought.
And then it got better, because Emma Bannon, as it turns out, is Prime: the highest level of sorcerer in the land, and a delightful character at that. Throughout the entire I book, I cannot think of a single moment where I was urging her to do something different than what she did. Which, with me being the reader, means she can come across as a bit brutal on occasion. But hey, she gets the job done.
The two stand at the beginnings of a grand mystery. Before the book began, Bannon had begun investigating the deaths of several registered mentaths; as Clare is unregistered, she doesn’t tell him (at first) that he’s the last unregistered mentath in London.2 Every other unregistered mentath has been rather brutally murdered. Whoops!
The plot was intriguing, and toeing the line of ‘too complex’ – I could follow most of the time, though I’ll admit to having been a bit lost amidst all the local politics once or twice. Still, it all came clear enough in the end, in a series of scenes that would make for a beautiful cinematic.
What I really loved, though, was twofold:
First, the relationship between Bannon and Clare. It’s distinctly not Sherlock/Watson in flavor – Clare is obviously the Sherlock figure here, but Bannon neatly sidesteps being Watson by dint of being the Big Dog of the two: she’s the one ordering Clare around, serving both as protector and master, in a way. And the entire matter of heteronormative bull was also neatly sidestepped: Clare, a being who prides himself on sheer logic, doesn’t seem to bother with attraction to people, and Bannon has her own romance going on outside of the pair. Do you know how happy it makes me to see a book feature a male-and-female-duo as lead and not have them wind up making out? So happy.
Secondly, the world building in this book was phenomenal. To the point where I was starting to wonder if I’d missed something and this was, like, the nineteenth book in the series. It’s an alternate history, and a rather unique one – there are mentions of an Age of Flame, when dragons ruled; hints of Arthurian legend having actually happened; Britain is named for Britannia, a fascinating immortal ruler-spirit that uses the acting Queen as a Vessel; and plenty of old magics being used to do interesting things. There was a ludicrous amount of effort put into the world building of this whole thing, and it made it amazing. I feel safe assuming that the author has a notebook3 full of history and rules of magic and whatnot somewhere; but though it exists, very little is shared with us. “Show, don’t tell” must’ve been carved into the desk on which she wrote- the ‘end notes’ consist of a one-page excerpt from Clare’s briefly-mentioned monograph on observation4 and a short list denoting the levels of magic users, with a couple brief footnotes that make it seem like something taken from a textbook rather than the explain-it-all appendix to a novel. And yet it works: while I certainly started off confused, by the end I felt pretty comfortable with what the layout of the world, the rules and all that, were. Sure, there’s numerous mysteries left over, but it doesn’t feel like the book is taunting me, it feels like I’m a slightly-more-informed-than-average citizen of the world, knowing just enough to realize that there’s a world of mysteries still out there.
And I love that sort of thing, it has very thoroughly captured my interest. Though I’m trying to avoid buying any new books at the moment, as I’ve got a ten-page list of backlog to work my way through,5 I just might have to pick up the next one in the series right now. You’ll see soon enough if I managed to control myself.

So, that’s my review: glowing with praise, absolutely in love. Go get the book.

  1. Why yes I did just use the correct pluralization of ‘genius,’ thank you for noticing. 
  2. Or rather, Londinium – one of the interesting things throughout is the slightly-different names of things. I’ve got some Thoughts on the matter, which I’ll go into later. 
  3. Or ten. 
  4. Yes, he’s Sherlock Holmes, we get it. 
  5. Plus some rereading I want to do, because I’m like that. 

Halo: Nightfall

I’m gonna be honest with y’all, I didn’t finish this one. Not something I normally do with Halo media, but I’m bad at movie-watching to start with,1 and this one had lots of creepy worms. I quite enjoyed the setup, and figured out after a bit2 that this is Spartan Locke’s backstory, which was kinda cool. Having it be live-action, and still featuring a couple Sangheili? I quite liked, and I think the visual effects were handled well.
That was actually one of the weirder things about this, for me – I had no idea this was a thing until a couple days ago, and it seemed like a rather big-budget sort of thing for Microsoft to not have advertised at all. Then again, I don’t think Google’s ad algorithms are smart enough to link what I post on here with my viewing habits elsewhere, so probably they have no idea that I’m a big ol’ Halo nerd, and that’s why I never get Halo ads on YouTube.3
So I liked the first half of the movie or so, but then the worms showed up. Conceptually, and in writing, I enjoy the Lekgolo species, I like the idea that the massive Hunters are actually weird hive-mind things. It’s just so cool. But seeing the worms on their own? Eurgh. They’re creepy.4
The real reason I even bothered to write up this review – usually I don’t bother, for stuff I don’t finish, which is why you never really see me posting hugely negative reviews – is because of a single little joke I wanted to work in here. It’s the explanation of why I think worms are creepy, in fact.
It’s because I know that, one day, worms are gonna be one of the big contributors to the decomposition of my body. And for some reason, they all look like they want to get that started ahead of schedule.

Does that count as a joke? It’s hard to type out the tone of voice I’m going for in my head, and I think that’s more ‘morbid’ than ‘funny.’ Oh well, so is half of my sense of humor.
So… if you’re not freaked out by worms like I am, go watch the movie! It’s pretty good, well-made and all that. If you have an existential horror of worms, then… really don’t watch this movie. Your choice.

  1. I need a minimum of, like, 1.25 things to be doing at any given time, and a movie counts as, like, .125 or something. I dunno, trying to make math out of ‘movies can’t hold my attention well’ is hard. 
  2. Also contributing to my lack of attention: I watched this while ‘working,’ and even when there’s no customers, a pool is loud
  3. Except when Halo 4 came out, but I’m pretty sure that at that point Microsoft had bought every ad slot on the site, so that doesn’t really mean much of anything. 
  4. I think all worms are creepy, to be honest. It’s the one downside to when it rains – all the worms are out on the sidewalks and stuff. 

Halo: Shadow of Intent

Good lord, I thought I was done with all the Halo books but then I found another one I hadn’t read yet.1 So I’ve got at least one more of these things to write.2
This was another of the interwar-period books, following some ex-Covenant folk. On one side, a Prelate, roughly the Covenant equivalent of a Spartan.3 On the other, the Half-Jaw, an old warrior who sided with the Arbiter in the mess of post-Covenant Sangheili politics. Seeing the mess that was Sangheilios, the Arbiter sent the Half-Jaw and his ship, the sole remaining assault-carrier in the Sangehili navy. If you’re in the middle of a morass of a civil war, you don’t want the under-staffed, under-defended Big Gun being right nearby and easily accessible to anyone who might want the power to glass half the planet.
The book felt deceptively short, to be honest – I was going to describe a bit more of the plot, but I realized that was easily halfway through it already, which is going a bit beyond my ‘no spoilers’ rule I try to abide by. More of a novella than a novel, I suppose.
That said, they managed to get some good character development in – the Prelate has a tragic backstory going on, explored through a couple (nightmarish) dream sequences, which gets worse over time. Rather sad, really, but I suppose that’s what happens in war. The Half-Jaw, on the other hand, is an old warrior, nicknamed for the injuries he received in the Covenant civil war, and wants nothing more than to be able to rest. Not really an option when you’ve got a Prelate trying to kill you, though. Poor guy.
There’s a bit of a Forerunner artifact involved, because of course there is, but it doesn’t really get explored very well – the part of me that always wants to know about Forerunner tech and history was quite annoyed about the lack of explanation on what exactly it was, but oh well. I’ll live.
Now, if I’m remembering properly, this being such a short book also meant it was pretty cheap, so go ahead and give it a read.

  1. It was already on my Kindle and everything. My roommate is making fun of me for having “the least unhealthy addiction ever.” 
  2. I say “at least” because at this point I might go back and reread the ones I’ve got as actual paperbacks and do re-read-reviews of them or something. It’s all an excuse to read more Halo books, I’ve gotta be honest. 
  3. Prelates are, apparently, retro-genetically modified San’Shyuum, so closer in relation to Spartan-IVs than anything else, I suppose? They’re also, notably, some of the only members of the Prophet race to be able to walk under their own power, and are actually impressively good fighters. 

Junior Scientist Power Hour

I’m calling this a book review, since I read the comic in a book.1 But it’s also a webcomic, which is how I found out about it. Not directly, though – Abby Howard was my top pick on Strip Search, the Penny-Arcade backed web reality series that took the ‘America’s Got Talent’ style show and did it for webcomics creators.
She didn’t win, unfortunately, but the show did get her a lot of attention, and she leveraged it quite well to put together a kickstarter to fund the creation of her second webcomic, The Last Halloween,2 which I’ve also been reading and enjoying. Now, I remembered backing the Kickstarter, but I thought I’d backed at one of the digital-only levels. Then I got a box in the mail, and found out I apparently went for a higher tier! Now I have a book, what fun. I can throw it at people when I feel like they really need to read this comic.
And I expect to do a lot of book-based assault because JSPH is wonderful. It’s silly, sometimes spooky, and nonsensical in the best way.
I don’t have a whole lot to say about it, you guys. There’s no overarching plot, and usually my reviews involving picking those apart and talking about why I liked/didn’t like them, and without that I really don’t know what all to talk about.
Go read it! It’s FREE, y’all.

  1. Well, okay, I also read it online first, but I read it as a book just now so… hush. 
  2. I’m not going to review that one for the sheer annoyance of dealing with the ‘Halloween to Hallowe’en’ autocorrect I’ve got set up. What? Switch that off? Don’t be ridiculous. 

Halo: Last Light

I didn’t even realize I’d made a Halo pun in the start of one of my other posts about all these Halo books, but referring to all these book reviews as a “flood” of posts totally is a Halo pun. Whoops.
Anyhow, this one just absolutely took the cake as my favorite Halo book ever. Which is saying something, considering that, as of now, I think I’m only one book shy of having read all of them.1
So, why was this one my favorite? Because the main character was so interesting. Inspector Veta Lopis is introduced as the best criminal investigator2 on the colony of Gao. Her task of the moment: find out who the serial killer is that’s been murdering tourists in the massive Montero Cave System. Unfortunately for her, the UNSC is also on site, having rolled in with an entire battalion as an ONI research task-group works on tracking down… something. Most people think it’s the source of the ‘miracle cures’ that have been cropping up in the caverns lately, which suits ONI just fine – they don’t want anyone to realize that they’re looking for an active Forerunner ancilla.3 Which is cool, because I love me some Forerunner tech. We also got a cool look at a Lifeworker Huragok, though why one was present in the ancient Forerunner base I have no idea.4
But why I loved it is that, for the most part, the book remembered that it started out as a murder mystery. Sure, some ex-Covenant show up and people start shooting at one another, but all throughout Lopis refused to lose sight of her goal: identifying the murderer.
(As a murder mystery, I thought it worked pretty well – there were a lot of different suspects I came up with, including a few that neither the Inspector nor the UNSC thought up.5 There were one or two very obvious ‘taunting you with knowing who did it but not saying it yet’ moments, but for the overall thrill of the chase I’d say they earned one or two.)
And the part that had me making excited noises as I read the book was the inclusion of a few Spartan-IIIs. I’d kinda forgotten that they could be back, since the last time I saw them was at the end of Onyx, with them being locked up in the Shield World. Except that wasn’t the last time I saw them, because one of the books featured Dr. Halsey helping to crack open that shield world and begin exploring, and they had the help of the Spartan-IIIs there while doing that. Onyx was the one I’ve read several times, though, so that’s what stuck in my mind. Seeing the Spartan-IIIs again was a nice little bonus, like, oh yeah, some of the characters I like actually survived the Human-Covenant War.6
And oh dearie me, the way those children interact with Lopis? It was heartbreaking. Keep in mind, they are literally children – there are two surviving members of the first class of Spartan-IIIs, and they serve as parental figures for the rest; other than those two, the eldest of the Spartan-IIIs is still too young to drive legally. They’re teenagers, and instead of going to school and having awkward Prom experiences or whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing as a teen, they’re entering their tenth year of being super-soldiers, killing the enemies of the UNSC.
And then they meet Lopis, and she finds out just how young they are, and she’s different. Because everyone else sees them first and foremost as Spartans, as untouchable super-soldiers purpose-built for war. But she sees them as kids, and she stands up for them. By the end of the book, they’re all calling her “mom.” It’s somewhere between ‘touching’ and ‘heartbreaking’ and I adored it.
That’s really what I want out of all of my media – superhumans, be they Spartans or superheroes, just trying to live their lives. Everyone wants to be normal, to fit in – and while most people don’t ‘fit in’ just because it’s inherently impossible to do so, these sorts of folks don’t fit in because they are the Übermensch. They’re stronger, faster, better than everyone else – but they still have problems.

Basically, I loved Last Light, and I am begging Microsoft to make sure we get to see Lopis and the IIIs again.7 I want it more than anything else in the world.
Go buy this book and read it. It was wonderful, and I want to make it clear that there’s demand, because economic forces rule us all.

  1. Not including the comics – that’s a project for… sometime after I graduate, when I start having enough disposable income and space to buy physical books again. 
  2. I’ve said the word ‘investigator’ too many times in my head already, it doesn’t sound like a word anymore. This doesn’t bode well. 
  3. This book included the word ‘ancilla’ so many times. I’d call it egregious, but I think the whole existence of the word ‘ancilla’ is – it’s just an AI, folks. You didn’t need to make up a special word for it just because it’s a significantly better AI than what anyone else has. You’re also referring to it as an Archeon-class, so having multiple words to point out that it’s fancy is just excessive. 
  4. Another thing I noted is that, while the ancilla itself went into a deep sleep mode roughly 100,000 years ago, the Huragok itself apparently didn’t and spent the entire time awake and wandering around the base, doing the Huragok version of being bored out of its mind. Poor thing. 
  5. One of them was ‘the MJOLNIR armor on its own, being controlled by hackers or something’ which vaguely came up, but only in the way that it’s possible to freeze a Spartan in the armor, not actively control it. Dang. 
  6. To be fair, Cortana and Dr. Halsey are probably my favorites and they both survived, but the Spartan-IIIs are nice because they’re only mildly sociopathic, instead of the ‘taken it to the point of pride’ level that Dr. Halsey’s at. 
  7. Spoiler warning

    The book ends in a way that made me shed a (metaphorical) tear of joy – Lopis and her IIIs getting to stay together as a family. A messed-up, ONI-sanctioned family of ultra-violence-using investigators, but a family nonetheless. 


Halo: Hunters in the Dark

And we’re back with even more Halo. A side note: I realized sometime while I was reading this book that I’ve never played Halo 5, and that I didn’t even know what the plot of it was. There’s a good reason I didn’t really care about Halo 5, though, which I might turn into a separate blog post at some point.
Anyhow, Hunters in the Dark. It’s another interwar book, though a bit of a precursor1 to the Human-Forerunner war to come. There was also a nice hint of follow-up with what happened to the UNSC Rubicon, the ship that Guilty Spark stole at the end of one of the Forerunner Trilogy books. I kept hoping for more on that, but I apparently haven’t gotten to the correct book and/or game for that yet, so oh well, I guess I’ll just keep reading.
This one follows a mixed group of Sangheili and Spartans, with the addition of Olympia Vale before she becomes a Spartan and a pair of human doctors. And, my favorite, a Huragok. I love the Huragok, they’re so delightfully weird. Based on comments throughout this book and the last, they’ve gotten very rare throughout the galaxy in the aftermath of the Human-Covenant War, and I’m really hoping that ONI or someone has an ongoing project to help them repopulate a bit. They’re kinda incredibly useful resources, and as far as I’m aware they can reproduce without too much work.2
Anyhow, the plot of this one kicks off with Luther Mann and Henry Lamb, the two doctors mentioned earlier, exploring Zeta Halo. There, they find an active countdown, which shortly thereafter leads to the discovery that the Halo array has been activated. Again.3 They realize that the signal came from the Ark, and start working to get the portal at Voi4 up and running again. Which is where the Sangheili come in, bringing the Huragok with them.
From there, it gets proceedingly more mysterious, and we never actually get answers as to what all was going on on the Ark. Sure, a lot of it could be explained by who the Bad Guy ended up being, but Drifts, the Huragok, made a few references to a third party messing around with the systems of the Ark, and I’m quite curious as to who that was.5
This one was a good read, though, I think I liked it more than New Blood. There wasn’t nearly as much flashback, and though the progression of time got a little nonlinear at times – mostly because one character’s storyline was revealing things a lot faster than the others’, and the author was trying to ensure that both plots would be interesting – but never did the sync get off by more than, oh, 12 hours or so. Quite manageable, and like I said, an interesting read.

  1. Get it? Precursor? Like the- oh, nevermind. 
  2. If I’m remembering right, it’s basically a matter of giving two or more Huragok access to enough raw materials, both biological and otherwise, to build a new one. They then connect and upload sufficient data for the new Huragok to become sapient and a useful tool. 
  3. Somewhere an ONI AI drops its head into its hands and starts calculating how expensive it’d be to just blow up all of them. (Back of the envelope math says: surprisingly, not that bad – it only took the overloading reactor complex of an early-model Frigate to do it in Combat Evolved, which means the things can be snapped with only, like, a couple H-bombs. Wouldn’t even need antimatter warheads!) 
  4. Why it’s referred to as being at Voi when it’s, like, five hundred times bigger than Voi and stretches all the way to the much-bigger city of New Mombasa, I don’t know. 
  5. Based on the timeline, I figure it could be Cortana, a local copy of 343 Guilty Spark, the Didact, or the Librarian. Or a Gravemind. There’s quite a few options there. 

Playlist of the Month: March 2016

I’ve decided that, for some of these things, I’m going to include links to buy the songs1 – make it a bit easier for y’all to find the songs, if you’re interested, and throw a bit of support to the artists.2
5AM – Amber Run
Shiver – Amber Run
I Need My Girl – The National
Forgiven – Millesim Remix – Wolf Colony3
Trusty And True – Damien Rice
Your Hand In Mine – Explosions In The Sky
Hymn for the Weekend – Coldplay
Just My Soul Responding – Amber Run
Elysium – Mendum
On Your Knees – Matthew Mayfield
Team (Lorde Cover) – Matthew Mayfield4
Midnight – Lane 85
Summer Heart – Pretty Haze
Fire – Jack Garratt
You Can’t Save Me – Johnny Stimson
Ghost ft. Patrick Baker (Lane 8 Remix) – Lane 8
But Now A Warm Feel Is Running – Fhin
Haven, Mass (B-Side) – Bon Iver
Canyon Moon – Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness
House for You – LOYAL
Maps For The Getaway – Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness6
Animal – The Dunwells
Your Call – Duck House
In the Air – Star Slinger Remix – Ten Fé
We Were Happy Once (feat. Bess Rogers) – Anya Marina7
Man Of Lies – Blueneck
Broken Fingers – Blueneck
Father, Sister – Blueneck
I Feel The Weight – Miike Snow
Back Of The Car – Miike Snow
Monster – Mumford & Sons
I Will Wait – Mumford & Sons
Hopeless Wanderer – Mumford & Sons
Little Lion Man – Mumford & Sons
Ghost feat. Patrick Baker (Lane 8 Remix) – Lane 88
Smoke Filled Room (Acoustic) – Mako9
Klara (Theo Kottis Remix) – Lane 8
Afterlife – XYLØ10
SCRAM – Mogwai11
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea – XYLØ
Fat Man – Mogwai
America – XYLØ12
Lou Lou – Albin Lee Meldau13
Communicate – The Dunwells14
Lucky Ones – The Dunwells15
LA Love Song – XYLØ
She Whispers – The Dunwells
Tzar – Mogwai
Smoke Signals – Hotel Garuda16
U-235 – Mogwai18
Will You Wait For Me – The Dunwells
Sunlight (Jody Wisternoff Remix) – Lane 8
Ether – Mogwai

  1. From iTunes or Amazon Music, as those are the two stores I ever use- I used to use Google Play, but haven’t since I switched to iPhone. And I’ve got a Thing against Spotify. 
  2. The exact metric by which I’ll decide which ones to link is “randomness with a bias in favor of less-popular groups.” And a good bit towards “new to these lists,” as well. 
  3. Fun story: while trying to verify that this was the correct version of the song to link to, I accidentally hit ‘play’ and iTunes started playing a totally different song while the Amazon sample was playing. “This is not at all the right remix,” I thought, before realizing what I’d done. 
  4. “I’d normally never listen to Lorde, but I’d listen to an album of you doing Lorde covers.” – someone complimenting me when they heard me singing along to this. Thanks, friend! 
  5. This song is so calm, it’s up there with “Your Hand In Mine” in my favorite songs to listen to when I need to defuse a bad mood. Or diffuse it. Either way. 
  6. The first few times I listened to this song, I was biking, and what with the wind and all that I couldn’t quite hear the lyrics right, so I spent a while thinking this song was about planning a heist. 
  7. For some reason, this song reminds me of a lullaby that I’d listen to as a child. Which is weird, considering how depressing it is. 
  8. Why yes, this is the second time this song is on here – one version is the Soundcloud rip (sorry!), and one version is from the actual album. 
  9. Another one my roommate gave me, I love this song. 
  10. Things I’ve learned today: how to type an uppercase Ø. Shift+option+o, for those wondering. Leaving out the shift gets you the lowercase ø.
    Interesting note about this: you can’t type that character into the Amazon search field. 
  11. This whole album is all ‘nuclear history’ references and it makes me so happy 
  12. Why yes, I am linking to multiple songs off this album. I’d’ve linked to ‘Afterlife’, as well, but Amazon only has the explicit version and I have very strange ideas about what level of censorship it’s necessary for me to have on this here blog. 
  13. The only thing I don’t like about this song is how dang short it is. I want mooooore. 
  14. This song is basically how I respond whenever my friends complain to me about their relationship problems. “JUST COMMUNICATE” 
  15. For some reason, my laptop saw fit to change ‘Lucky’ to ‘Luckyy.’ … Okay? 
  16. This one reminds me of that song. “If our love is tragedy,” yadda yadda. If you lived through, what, 2012? Yeah, I think that was the year. Anyways, if you lived through that year, you know this song. 
  18. Get it, because uranium isotopes? heh, I have a weird sense of humor. 

Halo: New Blood

The flood of Halo books continues!
This one was a lot of flashing back. Like, two chapters of “this is what’s going on now,” and the whole rest of it was flashback. Buck,1 as it turns out, has a propensity for storytelling.
That story meanders quite a bit, because while he has a propensity for storytelling he’s got even more of one for going off on tangents. As it turns out, he’s now become a SPARTAN-IV, one of the new group that were created in the lead-up to Halo 4.2 And that’s sort of what this whole book is – an interwar period, a look at what the UNSC was doing in the immediate aftermath of the Covenant War and before the Didact showed up and started ruining things again. Which was a pretty cool bit of territory to play with, one that I don’t think we’ve really seen before in the Halo series. One of the core ideas of the games was that you’ve got the Covenant, these scary xenos,3 to provide a Big Bad Enemy that we don’t have to feel guilty for killing. But without the Covenant, humanity’s own mess of fighting amongst themselves came back out to play. It never really ended during the Covenant War, it just got put on hold – even ideologically antithetical enemies can put their differences aside when they’re faced with mutual obliteration at the hands of a third party.4 And so, in that interwar period, the rebellion against the UNSC and the UEG springs back to life, and all the troops that’ve gotten so use to that no-gray-areas war with the xenos are suddenly thrown back into the moral gloop that is a colony-vs-empire war.
And that’s something that, like I said, hasn’t really been explored in the Halo canon very much. Sure, the origin of the SPARTAN-II program was as a force for fighting against those rebels, and we’ve been through one or two missions there, but never with even a moment spared for their ideology – they were portrayed just as ‘terrorists.’ Which is fitting, considering how brainwashed all of the SPARTAN-IIs were; it’s even acknowledged in New Blood that one of the key reasons they were abducted and put into the program at the age of 6 was so that they’d have that sort of undying loyalty to the UNSC. The SPARTAN-IVs are all adults, converted into superhumans after they’ve been serving in the UNSC. And they’ve already formed their own opinions – they poke at their orders a bit, don’t obey quite as blindly, and in a couple notable cases, they actually side with the rebels. They’re not the point-and-shoot weapons that the SPARTAN-IIs were, but there’s more of them and it’s less likely to feed the rebellion when people find out about them and how they’re made.5
The fact that this one was such a gray area like that, though? It made it a much more interesting read. Depressing in places,6 but definitely interesting. Give it a read, especially if you want to find out more about the SPARTAN-IVs.

  1. The sergeant from Halo 3: ODST and a SPARTAN-IV in Halo 5, if you’re wondering why I’m acting like that’s a name that should be familiar. 
  2. Fun fact: I just now realized that Halo 5 has been out for a few months. I’m way more invested in the multimedia project that is Halo than I am in the video game series. 
  3. The term “alien” gets too much use in politics nowadays, so I’m going with “xenos” as shorthand for extra-terrestrial non-humans. 
  4. Imagine how the Cold War would’ve gone if Martians had shown up during the Cuban Missile Crisis and started laying waste to the entire planet. 
  5. Because, seriously, imagine the PR disaster that ensued when the Office of Naval Intelligence finally had to reveal that the SPARTAN-IIs were created by kidnapping children and brainwashing them and then testing a bunch of geneva-convention-violating surgeries on them. 
  6. There’s nothing more aggravating than having a playable character die at a point in the game when you can’t control them – you can’t help but feel like if you were in charge you could’ve done something different, you could’ve saved them. Cutscene deaths are stupid, and so are book-sequel-deaths. Which could be more of a spoiler if I gave you any idea of who died, but I won’t. 

“Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage”

“When veterans get together, it doesn’t matter who won or lost,” [Makarov] said through his translator. “It’s enough that both survived.”

Oh boy, do I love me some Cold War history. It’s easily my favorite time period to read about, and the one that I keep coming back to whenever my education requires I learn something about the past, lest I repeat it.1 The craziness of the whole period fascinates me – the Space Race happened in such a short time, people were cramming nuclear reactors into anything they could think of, Freeman Dyson was wandering around spitting out ideas that will probably remain the basis of science fiction giga-structures for the rest of human history, and the military was determinedly ensuring that they could wipe out the entire human race before the Commies could, dammit! It was insane! And a bit of a miracle that we all survived, really.
This book dove2 into an aspect of the Cold War that I hadn’t actually thought about very much. Yes, I spend a lot of time thinking about submarines, but never really as elements for espionage, always in either their key role as an element of the US nuclear triad3 or in the sort of crazy things I’d do with them if I had the sort of ridiculous budget that both Navies had during the War.
But they actually make a lot of sense in that context – nearly impossible to spot from orbit, invisible from the surface; their only real weakness to detection is sonar, and from the standpoint of a submarine or other stealth craft, active sonar is a big no-no when you’re trying to stay hidden. They’re basically the perfect stealth vehicle. So why not use them to do a bit of listening in?
And boy oh boy did they do some cool stuff with that. The one that takes the cake is actually how I found this book: Operation Ivy Bells. A specially-modified nuclear submarine wandered in past Soviet naval defenses and settled down on top of a key underwater communications line. Divers went out, divers affixed a wiretap, divers went back in. Wait a day or two, pick the wiretap back up, and then sneak back home to deliver the tapes to the spooks at the NSA.4 Between them and the people listening in on the sub itself, they found that the line was a treasure trove: the Soviets assumed it was safe, as it ran entirely within Soviet territorial waters, and part of the time they didn’t even bother to encrypt their communications. It was an intelligence coup, one that would be repeated on multiple other undersea cables, bringing in massive amounts of information. (At first, the wiretap could only run for a week at most before being replaced; the NSA and the Navy called in engineers from telecoms companies, and wound up building one with some rudimentary computational capabilities and an onboard nuclear power plant;56 the new device could be left in place for a year or more, require far less frequent invasions-of-territory by US subs.)
I’m going to stop there, having given away one of the biggest success stories told in the book, but that’s hardly all of it – the book, a beautiful work of non-fiction, weaves several interesting tales, ranging from political intrigue to scientific success stories to on-the-edge-of-your-seat adventure novel in places. I’d absolutely recommend it to anyone who’s at all interested in Cold War history.7

  1. What, exactly, I’m personally in danger of repeating from the Cold War, I don’t really know. 
  2. Pun absolutely intended. 
  3. Land-based missiles, SAC bombers constantly in the air, and submarines packed to the rafters with SLBMs. 
  4. This was back in the good old days, when our nation’s spies were looking outside the country. Mostly. Unless you were a Communist. Or Communist-adjacent. Or, y’know, vaguely suspicious.
    That said, the NSA didn’t do the “watching our own,” that was mostly handled (very illegally) by the CIA. 
  5. It wasn’t stated in the book, but I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet that it was a radio-thermal generator, better known as an RTG; both sides in the Cold War used them to power space-based devices, and the Soviets also used them to power a grid of remote lighthouses along their long, long coastline. 
  6. The “nuclear-powered lighthouses” thing would turn out to be a horrible idea, though only after the Soviet Union had already collapsed; the lighthouses these days have been stripped for materials, leading, presumably, to a spate of heavily-irradiated thieves around the country. 
  7. Or just people who’re interested in submarines, a stance which I totally respect – submarines are cool! 

Halo: Broken Circle

I told y’all there’d be a lot of Halo books coming up, didn’t I? Well, if I haven’t, that’s a thing.1
Broken Circle was an interesting one, because, unlike the rest of the Halo series, it didn’t follow a human around.2 Most of it was also set quite a ways into the past – sure, the Forerunner trilogy3 was set millions of years in the past, but that’s so far into history as to be almost unassailable.4 This one took place roughly 500 BCE, and bounced off the formation of the Covenant to show us the turmoil immediately following. And oh, there’s some fun xenopolitics going on there. Most of the political intrigue was the internal affairs of the Covenant, posturing by a new Hierarch, trying to control an ex-Council member trying to have a quiet retirement of theological study. Instead, he’s sent on a couple of missions – first, to the San’Shyuum homeworld, both to recover a Forerunner artifact of great importance and to steal some females to bolster the ailing gene pool aboard the Dreadnaught.5 When that mission ends, he’s sent to confront Ussa ‘Xellus, the leader of a splinter faction of Sangheili who refused the Writ of Union and the Covenant, seeing it as a surrender that was culturally impossible for the Sangheili people.
And then, following a beautiful little confrontation,6 the book skips forward three thousand years, to the aftermath of Halo 2, and the beginning of the implosion of the Covenant. The ancestors of those two main characters take over as the main characters, an interesting plot device, and the book comes to a pretty good ending. There was a touch of deus ex machina going on, although, seeing as the deus in question are Forerunners and the events were an ancilla, I’d say it’s more of a “machina ex deus,” sort of situation.7
The only problem I had with the whole thing was that both of these species have intensely patriarchal systems. The Sangheili are a very warlike culture, and they’ve got a history of repressing scientific research via killing; that same ‘fix problems with death’ mindset was apparently applied to any female who wanted to contribute to the war efforts of the entire society. The San’Shyuum, meanwhile, were a splinter faction of their own people that decided to use Forerunner relics, rather than just worshipping them in place; they quite literally broke off from the home planet, stealing the Dreadnought8 and leaving to eventually build the Covenant. Their society is less ‘patriarchal’ than it is ‘reminiscent of a stereotypical fraternity.’ When faced with a lack of genetic diversity, their response was not “use our advanced genetic science to fix this,” it was “go steal some new babes from the homeworld.”
Actually, no, I’m going to revise that – it’s not ‘stereotypical fraternity,’ it’s ‘stereotypical group of nerds living in their collective parents basements.’ This is a group that prides themselves on intellect, worships machinery made by people older and much smarter than them, and can’t move without aid from their chairs. Yeah, they’re a not-very-subtle mockery of the ‘gamer’ stereotype. Which is weird, considering that this whole series is still clearly aimed at gamers.
Why do I say this? Well, first off, look at any of the female characters. All four of them, consisting of “generic female spartan,” Cortana,9 Dr. Halsey,10 and The Librarian.11 And secondly, as I’m apparently going all ‘militantly queer’ of late, I’ve noticed that this series, set in the 26th century when the LGBTQ+ rights battle has presumably been over for hundreds of years, has yet to acknowledge the existence of non-heterosexual people.12
Ah, well. I’ll keep reading the books and hope they’ll eventually get better at inclusiveness. It has to happen sometime, right?

  1. Got a bunch for Christmas, it’s taken until now for me to get to them. 
  2. Even the Forerunner trilogy of books spent at least one of the books being told by a human, and as that was the last one the way it was set means that, arguably, the rest of the books were narrated by a human, as well. 
  3. I keep coming back to these as a exceptions to the general rules of how Halo books have been; really, I think they were a bit of a turning point in the book series, along with the games, in that they opened up the lore to more than just the human/Covenant/Flood war. 
  4. Plus, since Forerunners have an average lifespan measured in the tens of thousands of years, and constructs that easily last millions, time seems a bit meaningless for them. 
  5. Somehow, none of the Hierarchs thought “hmm, we’ve got a Dreadnaught the size of a city, capable of wiping out entire planets, and a new fleet of battleships staffed with millions of Sangheili warriors, maybe we should just go back and conquer our homeworld?” Considering that the homeworld, from which they broke off, has technology consisting of ICBMs at the upper end of the hard-science scale and then a lot of biotech, it wouldn’t be much of a challenge to take over. 
  6. It really was a beautiful thing – the entire battle happened as a private conversation between the two main characters, and it ended with both sides winning, and both knowing that the others had won. It’s best described as something like a really satisfying game of chess. 
  7. God I’m proud of that awful joke. 
  8. The Keyship, as it came to be known in the videogame series. 
  9. Also known as “she’s not technically naked, since there aren’t any visible nipples.” 
  10. In remarkably good shape for an 80-year-old child-kidnapping sociopath. 
  11. She only makes an appearance as a hologram, and in that she’s a ten-million-year-old alien. 
  12. Things my roommates heard me grumbling as I read: “there aren’t even any humans in this book and it’s still heteronormative as shit.” 

Halo: Saint’s Testimony

Another one in the “books I’ve gotten for free” category, though in this case it was because I had a $1 credit on my Amazon account and the book was $0.99.1
I definitely would’ve bought the book anyways, though, because I’m far more of a fan of the Halo lore than I should be willing to admit, and this one was about an AI, so how could I resist?
Because, you see, I’m a total sucker for AI in any mythos. I love it, I love people exploring the interactions between humanity and the intelligences that they create. It’s a spectacular moral gray area, one that we really desperately need to explore now, before we’re living in one of those stories.
And so here come my issues with this book.2
First, the historical aspect: it’s set in the aftermath of the Human-Covenant War, which places it solidly in the late 26th century. The UNSC’s brand of sentient AI, Smart AIs, were first built in the late 21st century. Which means that, somehow, human society made it half a millenia without a single AI going to court and suing for personhood. It took, what, 200 years between the creation of American Sign Language, it being taught to apes, and then apes being granted personhood in a variety of jurisdictions? And in five hundred years, not a single one of the super intelligent beings manufactured, in essence, by uploading a dead human brain into the cloud tried to prove they were a person?
That aside, there’s some continuity issues that’ve been starting to crop up in the past few books, and this one really brought those to the forefront, in my mind.3 The way AIs function in the Halo universe doesn’t seem to be all too clearly set in the minds of the writers. Back when the series first started, Cortana was the best example of an AI, and she was basically a human mind, running super fast. Sure, it was a very analytical, probably sociopathic human mind, but a human mind nonetheless. She was wrapped up in different programs, which allowed her to control her appearance and interface with different systems, but still a human mind. Copying herself wasn’t an innate ability, but one she picked up while digging around in a Covenant system.45 Now, it appears that all the Smart AIs the UNSC is using are capable of the same feat, and quite a few other manners of thinking that simply aren’t possible for human minds.
I mean, yes, there’s an argument to be made that there’s been a lot of development going on in the field of Artificial Intelligence, but I’m going to go ahead and cite that ‘500 years’ figure again. A technological leap of that size over the space of a couple years simply isn’t realistic when they’ve had 500 years with access to the same technology and not made one notable improvement.

Alright I’m going to stop now, because I’m being a bit too much of an obsessive fan here and it’s starting to creep me out. Expect a couple more Halo books being reviewed soon – I got a pile of ‘em for Christmas and I’m just now starting into those.

  1. I wonder if they’re going to leave the $0.01 credit on my account? It wasn’t a gift card, it was a “thanks for choosing the cheap shipping option, Prime Customer!” thing. 
  2. Well, ‘novella’ might be a more accurate term, considering that it was written purely for e-reader and it’s also a novella length. 
  3. There were different ones that were bugging me in the other books – namely, the fact that all of humanity suddenly had access to instantaneous galaxy-spanning communications equipment at the end of the Human-Covenant War. Sure, Forerunner tech and all that, but the time between “finding the relevant Forerunner tech” and “our own version has been implemented everywhere” was… really short. 
  4. Which still has a few unanswered questions, to my mind – the weird AI running around in those systems, was that some ancient Forerunner ancilla, or a human AI that’d been captured a while ago and gone very uniquely rampant? 
  5. And yes, I am enough of a nerd that I just used the canon-accurate term “ancilla” for a Forerunner AI.