Categories
Review

The Ables

It’s a running joke, at this point, that I’m a sucker for anything with superheroes in it. It’s, like, my schtick or something.
This was an interesting one. The Ables is set in a world where superhumans exist, people with a variety of superpowers. The main character is telekinetic, a skill he inherited from his father.1 Unlike most of what I read, though, in this one the superhumans keep themselves out of the public eye. Here, they have the advantage of someone named Weatherby, a massively powerful superhuman whose ability is making people forget. All around the world, the actions of the superheroes are forgotten by the normal folk almost instantly. Which is… a really scary amount of power for any one person to have, to be honest.
Fortunately, that’s not going to be a problem for a whole lot longer – Weatherby is apparently the last in a long line of Weatherbys, all of whom have had the same power and have used it towards the same end. It’s implied that he’s rather old and has no plans to have children, so the governing body of this secretive superhero society2 are, it’s mentioned a few times, in negotiations with the governments of the world to help prepare people for the revelation that, surprise, superheroes are real.
Where it gets more off-norm for my reading is in who the main characters are. First off, they’re middle schoolers. Which… is the main reason that I almost did finish this book. The opening bits, where it’s all about being in middle school, with the tiny tweaks necessary for it to be a middle school in what is very nearly a superhero-only city? They’re a pretty good representation of what it’s like to be in middle school. Which is to say… cringe-inducing in every way. It does eventually get away from that, which is, I think, the first time I’ve been happy that a superhero book has gone away from showing how superheroes can be integrated with a modern society.3
That’s not the only bit that’s focused on in the book, though, because the other thing about the main character and his friends is how they all met: in the Special Education class. Which strikes me as a bit of a misnomer in some cases – Henry, for example, doesn’t really have any special educational needs, he’s just in a wheelchair. That said, it’s a key plot point later on that this town doesn’t consider themselves ruled by US law, and so the Americans with Disabilities Act doesn’t apply. Rather infuriating, that.
All told, it’s an interesting book, once you get into it. I don’t know if I entirely like the context it’s set in, and there’s a few things that happened that made me really mad, but I deeply enjoyed the way the plot actually went. Sure, some of the stuff that was supposed to be a big twist was astonishingly predictable, but I’m a bit more lenient about that sort of thing than I used to be.4
So, I think I’ll give this one a thumbs up. Not my favorite ‘superheroes in middle school’ novel, but then, the first place for that one is a well-developed series that’s rather hard to beat.5 Without further ado, the link.


  1. His mother is a teleporter, and his little brother is apparently going to wind up as a speedster when his powers kick in. 
  2. Points for alliteration 
  3. The “Please Don’t Tell My Parents” which I’ve reviewed… less of than I thought, actually, is a counterpoint to this. The protagonist there is also in middle school, but manages to dodge most of the cringe worthiness of middle school as a whole. As I’ve said before and will most likely be saying again, that series is a delight to read. 
  4. My stance on the matter is roughly “I’ve spent enough time reading that I’ve probably hit that ’10,000 hours to be an expert’ line, so a lot of stuff seems predictable to me.” 
  5. The fact that I can narrow my categories down this much and still have multiple contenders for first place is one of the reasons I’m comfortable assuming I’ve spent 10,000 hours reading by now. 
Categories
Photography United States

New Orleans

Recently, we (the REU group) spent a day in New Orleans, wandering around and basically being Touristy McTouristface.1

Anyhow, I took my camera with me – how can I be a tourist without it?2

So, if you want to see some pictures of New Orleans looking pretty, head below the fold. (And I’ll add that ‘in pictures’ is one of the better ways to experience the French Quarter – it’s old, the water table is very shallow, and that means that it’s a rather fragrant area, even after the invention of sewers.)

Categories
Review

City of Burning Shadows

Okay, this book was gorgeous. Like, seriously, one of my favorite settings for a fantasy/science-fiction book I’ve read.
The basic gist of it is that this is a world where the gods are real and happily intervened in the world – the best example I can think of is that the whole thing takes place in a mega-city in the middle of an uninhabitable desert, made possible by the occasional rainstorm that just appeared over the city in response to prayers from the priests of the air goddess. And it was a pretty good world, where their Favored Children, something like high priests and priestesses of each of the god’s religions, were celebrities. Right up until, with no warning, the gods vanished. Without them, the world began to fall apart. One of the most immediate problems was that, in response to the fall of the world’s capitol city,1 the various megacities severed ties with one another. And not in the political sense – they destroyed the mass-transit ‘tubes’ that linked them for freight and personnel traffic, and with the tubes went the communications lines. They cut themselves off from each other.
That was years ago, now. The main character, Ash, was once a priest of the Zeus of the world, a trickster spirit who apparently ushered humanity along their evolutionary path out of something like boredom. The other species of the world were created, to varying degrees, in the image of humanity, though each with the unique flavor of their own parent-god. So there’s the shapeshifters, children of the shapeless god of magic, and then there’s the vaguely-elvin Jansynians, the corporate powerhouses of the world. Following the Abandonment,2 priests became rather unpopular, and the majority of his friends were killed. Ash himself was hospitalized for six months, and woke up in the drought-stricken, cut-off city.
He landed on his feet, though, becoming a glorified filling clerk for a private investigator’s firm. It’s there that the plot picks us up – an old friend, one he’d thought dead, came to ask for help.
Of course, it’s never something simple, and suddenly he’s embroiled in all sorts of fun politics. Turns out that someone wasn’t going to take the Abandonment lying down, and had put together plans for a satellite that could do the sort of thing only the gods had done before – it could make it rain in the middle of the desert. It could save the city. They’d handed off the designs to the Jansynians, hoping their resources3 could push the project through before the already-strained water reserves could be depleted. And then, for no apparent reason, progress halted on what should’ve been a simple “launch and press activate” type of process.
Then the assassins came for the inventor, and her sister stepped in to protect her, sending for the slightly-more-than-investigative PI firm.
That’s about enough of the plot, I think – it gets really interesting, there’s a couple of fun twists4 that I’m going to tell you absolutely nothing about.
But I will touch on something else – the setting is, like I said, a gorgeous world. Aside from the magic, it’s also science fiction – the Jansynians, taking advantage of their global business acumen, have built themselves the Crescent, a massive enclave from which all of their companies operate. They’re the ones everyone is jealous of, in the increasingly-parched desert – the Crescent, built 100 stories above the ground, is domed-in and has its own facilities to provide power, water, and food to the inhabitants. Basically, in their gleaming dome above the rest of the populace, they can ride out the apocalypse in comfort. When they deign to visit the city below, they do it in hovercars that they don’t even bother to lock, because nobody is stupid enough to steal from them.
Basically, it’s a delightful blend of fantasy and science fiction, and I loved reading it. Go get it.5


  1. Named something imaginative like “City of the Gods” 
  2. Which, I’ve gotta say, is probably the best-case scenario for naming something like the events this world had to go through. 
  3. And talent for management, something the inventor wanted nothing to do with. 
  4. And a couple of heartbreaking ones, because why wouldn’t there be? 
  5. And in looking up the link to put here I’ve found out there’s a sequel which I now desperately want to read. 
Categories
Review

A Beginner’s Guide to Invading the Earth

I had fun with this book, y’all. The first few chapters are just seriously silly, there’s a bit of a lull in how interesting it is, but then it picks back up, and I finished the entire second half of the book in one sitting, unable to put it down.
So, the context: you’ve got the Commons, which is something vaguely akin to the United Nations, but at the galactic scale. A rather common trope in science fiction of this specific dint. The “Happy Alien Welcome Committee”1 are preparing to induct humanity into the Commons as the latest member species – a somewhat run-of-the-mill operation, considering that there’s thousands of different species in the Commons by now, and rejection has happened precisely once before.2 Except, us being humanity, we manage to mess it up pretty spectacularly – the first envoy gets hit by a truck. Second one tries to help a crashing Cessna and instead the drunk cowboy flying the thing makes a surprisingly accurate potshot. It goes on from there.3 Ten attempts later, the Committee gives up, having never made contact with their selected Human Ambassador. Instead, the various member species who lost people start planning their various revenges.
So the cast of characters is already a wide-spread group of aliens and one very antisocial human. The chapters alternate back and forth, for the most part, with the first being the Committee planning their first meeting, the second being Jeff, their selected Ambassador, going about his normal life, and then back. It makes for a fun mechanic – there’s one or two chapters where you can see Jeff being his nomadic self, leaving town right after the latest media frenzy in response to another dead alien being found.
And then things start to get weird. The ‘alien’ plot ditches the Committee and starts following Oliop, the Committee’s tech support guy. He’s largely invisible,4 but decides to go take a look at this troublesome human for himself. And makes contact without any trouble.
But then the Plot kicks in, and you realize that, from all the silliness at the start, we wound up with something like ten different groups all trying to achieve different things. And that’s without introducing one of my favorite characters,5 who doesn’t show up until quite a ways into the book. It’s a delight.6
I’m going to stop myself now, though, because there’s just too much fun going on with the plot for me to spoil any of it. I enjoyed the heck out of it, so here’s the link. (It’s a remarkably cheap book, as well, considering how good it was. Seriously, go read it.)


  1. Or some similarly ridiculous name – a couple of the characters poke fun at it in the book once or twice. 
  2. The Bunnie, described as “as if someone had taken two giant spiders and then glued them back-to-back.” 
  3. The high point, in my opinion, being the trio of flying-squirrel-like aliens who managed to get impaled by a kite. 
  4. Not in an “alien superpower” way, in a “nobody pays attention to the IT guy” way. 
  5. Think “Sam Vimes from the Discworld series” but as a mold colony growing around a robotic endoskeleton. So cool
  6. To the degree that I’ve already bookmarked the other book this author has written, for when I’ve worked my way a good bit further through the long list of ‘books to read’ I’ve got going. 
Categories
Review

Calamity

I may or may not have stayed up a bit late so I could finish this book in one day. It’s the wrap-up to a series I’ve really enjoyed, and it was a good wrap-up, at that.
So, the Reckoners series is set in a world that has superhumans – they call them Epics. There’s a subgroup of those, High Epics, who’re the real superpowers – some people have, like, “can speak any made-up language” as their superpower. High Epics have things like “can turn anything he touches to steel, can fly, and is borderline immortal.”1
Of course, this is a world where the phrase “power corrupts” is just about a law of physics. The more of their power an Epic uses, the more they lose touch with humanity, becoming arrogant and cruel. There are no superheroes here – it’s just a new age of feudalism, where the lords are not just politically but physically orders of magnitude more powerful than the normal people.
It’s the sort of setting that I wish I could’ve thought of – it captures my interest in a way that very few other books (or media in general) can.2 I love this idea of superpowered beings having their weaknesses drive them to evil, and of the regular people trying to fight back against it. I dunno, I’ve just got weird interests.
Like I said, I really enjoy these books – I’ve got all of them.
Now, in this one, things aren’t going so well for the Reckoners – in the first one, they managed to take down Steelheart, the despotic ruler of Newcago. In the second, they went to Babilar3 to fight the ruler of that down. In the process, they lost their leader – a High Epic himself, he’d managed to stay on the side of the angels by not using his powers. Regalia, the ruler of Babilar, forced his hand, though, and in using his powers to save the city he rather doomed himself.
In the third book, the Reckoners are up against their former leader – with all his knowledge of them and their tactics, and a suite of powers that makes him one of the most powerful High Epics out there.
Oh, and that’s without mentioning that David, the protagonist, has his sights set on killing Calamity, the Epic in low Earth orbit that burns like a misplaced star and is the source of the powers and evil that shattered the world.
No pressure.

That’s about all I’m going to say for now – I enjoy the series a lot, and I think everyone should read it. If you haven’t read any of them, obviously start with the first. If you’ve read the others, I’d say go pick up the third now.4


  1. Technically speaking, I think the actual distinction of ‘High Epic’ means ‘borderline immortal’ for whatever reason – super-fast healing, indestructibility, able to dodge any attack, whatever. 
  2. The only other contenders I can think of are Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the DC Animated Universes, and Scott Meyer’s Magic 2.0 series. 
  3. The sunken remains of what used to be New York City – an Epic held up the towers with magical trees, basically, and it turned into one of the best places on the planet to live, actually. 
  4. And this is where I have to quietly admit that I just bought this book the day that I read through it – I know, I know, I’m supposed to not be buying more books while I work through the ones I’ve got, but I just got my payout from the Apple antitrust case and how was I supposed to resist, I got a Kindle gift card? C’mon. 
Categories
Review

Under a Colder Sun

I’m normally a huge fan of fantasy novels set in the far future, the whole “sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” thing, but this one was so depressing. It’s a corrupt world, a dark one – like the Fallout series, but worse, because in those at least there’s some people trying to make it better.
Here, there’s just petty little kingdoms fighting one another, and the creeping darkness outside the world trying to get in and ruin things.
I had such high hopes for this one, as well – the main characters are a grumpy immortal and a lesbian cop.1 And instead it’s just a stupid “save the princess” plot where everything goes wrong.
But then, once you’ve gotten to the point this world has, I think that was about all that could happen – the ball is rolling down the hill so fast it’d take something rather drastic to change that. And while there’s some ‘deus ex machina’ type intervention from the gods, the gods of this world are also awful – rather than offerings of food or whatever, they want “a fresh kill” or “your blood, drawn by another.” Seriously, at a certain point you should probably recognize that your deity sucks.
I dunno, man, this was just a bummer of a book. If you want to read it, though, feel free.2


  1. Which makes me want to write the weirdest buddy-cop movie ever, now that I’ve typed it. 
  2. Okay the fact that on Amazon this is subtitled “A Grim Dark Fantasy Adventure” is a pretty good sign that it’s gonna be depressing as hell
Categories
Photography United States

Capitol

So, not mentioned in my last post was the fact that, before going to Myrtles Plantation, we’d tried to go to the Louisiana State Capitol Building. Not that we were prevented from going or anything – it’s open to the public. (Though, admittedly, the fact that the main doors are blocked off is a bit foreboding.) The problem was more that it was very rainy, and we figured that the view from the top wouldn’t be the best through the clouds.

So instead we put it off for the next day. The weather was a bit better then – still cloudy, but not rainy and gross, and the clouds actually made it better, in my opinion.

The Louisiana State Capitol Building was constructed in the 1930s, and it looks like something out of Gotham City. It’s very cool. Photos below the fold.

Categories
Playlist

Playlist of the Month: June 2016

This month has been a bit interesting for my iTunes Library – I’ve been using it as the primary data source for a bunch of neural network research. That said, it hasn’t changed much, doing all that, other than the fact that I sat down for an hour and cleaned up the ‘genre’ tags of everything. Beyond that, it’s been a read-only operation.
Anyhow, here’s the list:
5AM – Amber Run
I Need My Girl – The National
Your Hand In Mine – Explosions in the Sky1
Team (Lorde Cover) – Matthew Mayfield
Midnight – Lane 8
Smoke Filled Room (Acoustic) – Mako2
Disintegration Anxiety – Explosions in the Sky
Sorry – Liss
SWORD – ΔUGUST
Heart Go Bang – Blue October
Home (Tim Palmer Mix) – Blue October
Jericho – Westerman
Hold Me Down – YOKE LORE
Daydream – Leo Kalyan
stard(us)t – johan
Insomnia – IAMX
Elodie – Ten Fé
Hands On You – Tony Pops
Thursday – LostBoyCrow
Atlantique Sud – M83
Used To Be – Beauvoir
Shouldn’t Have Done That – Two Another
LATE AT NIGHT – GENERIK
The Lucky One – Blue October
Lou Lou – Albin Lee Meldau
Fools and Their Gold – PLGRMS
Cold to the Touch – RALPH
Sight – Sleeping At Last3
Smell – Sleeping At Last
Memory Lane – KOLIDESCOPES
Hearing – Sleeping At Last
Let Me Go – Albin Lee Meldau
Touch – Sleeping At Last
SeeThroughDreams – Kellen
Lovers – Albin Lee Meldau
Darling – Albin Lee Meldau
Someone Like You – COBRYAMA feat. Gibbz4
All I Want – Kodaline
Half Light – BANNERS5
Riptide (String Quartet Tribute to Vance Joy) – Vitamin String Quartet
Be Somebody – Kings of Leon6
Wilder Mind – Mumford & Sons
Hopeless Wanderer – Mumford & Sons
Uprising – Muse
Elysium – Mendum7
Teardrop – Massive Attack8
Withdrawn – White Morning
They Shall Be Called (Part II) – White Morning
They Shall Be Called (Part I) – White Morning9
Big Jet Plane – Angus & Julia Stone
Safe & Sound (feat. The Civil Wars) – Taylor Swift
Thru – Vallis Alps
Atlas – Coldplay10
Ghosts – BANNERS
Shadow and a Dancer – The Fray11
White Square (Demo) – Rebecca McDade
Wona – Mumford & Sons
There Will Be Time – Mumford & Sons
Mood – Porches
Crimewave – Crystal Castles12
9 Crimes – Damien Rice
Burning In The Skies – Linkin Park
In the Dark – JUDY
Wake the Dead – Nassau
Remains (Bastille Vs. Rag N Bone Man Vs. Skunk Anansie) (Crossfaded Version) – Bastille


  1. The “Friday Night Lights” version. 
  2. It’d be interesting, at the end of the year, for me to go back and pick out the songs that were the most permanent. And hey, since I’ve been doing research using my iTunes Library, I know how to automate that process pretty well now, I guess. Hmm. 
  3. I’m gonna wind up buying everything by Sleeping At Last at some point, based on the little ‘senses’ series of songs alone. They’re all wonderful. 
  4. This song makes me want to listen to Kings of Leon. 
  5. The lowest star-ranking I’ve given a song by BANNERS is 4 stars. I have, I believe, every song he’s put out. 
  6. I blame “Someone Like You” for this song being back in here. Not that it’s a bad thing at all. 
  7. I’ve been digging back through some of my playlists from the past couple years. That’s my favorite part of doing these monthly playlists, actually – the fact that I can do that. 
  8. My sister and I watched a lot of House when we were kids; both the show and this song are, in a strange way, a bit of a ‘happy place’ for me because of that. 
  9. I’m glad I don’t have comments enabled at the moment, because I know some of you would complain about these being out of order. 
  10. Someone told me that I was losing ‘hipster cred’ by listening to Coldplay. I have never before said “I don’t care” with such vehemence. 
  11. Seriously, Helios is such a good album. 
  12. I spent a while listening through some of my older playlists this month. And by ‘some’ I mean ‘all, in order.’ I do a lot of listening to music at work. 
Categories
Photography United States

Myrtles Plantation

I’m sure I’ve mentioned somewhere that I’m doing a bit of traveling this summer, though I’m definitely too lazy to go back and find where, exactly, I mentioned that.

Still, it’s a thing. I’m spending the summer in Louisiana, doing research on neural networks at Louisiana State University. Which is a full-time job, 40 hours a week, 9-5 and all that, but my weekends are free and I do occasionally leave my room in my free time, so I’ve got some photos to show y’all.

This first set are from Myrtles Plantation, which markets itself as “the most haunted house in the American South.” Went with my family, when they made the trip down here to visit – my sister is a big fan of all things spooky.

I brought my camera with me, of course, because what’s a paranormal investigator without a camera? Photos are below the fold – I’m not a fan of making people load lots of images on the front page, even with the new CDN up and running. It’s rude to people on mobile, or with metered connections.

Categories
Review

Hold-Time Violations

This was written by one of the authors from the issue of Lightspeed that I read recently, and I saw that they’d written something for Tor.com, so of course I had to go find it and read it.1
That said, it was a short story so it’s getting a pretty short review. It’s an interesting concept – you’ve got a loop of universes, each of which contains the next one down, and is contained by the one above. Because it’s all in 11-dimensional space or whatever, the bottom-most universe contains the topmost one, and you get a nice self-contained loop. As it turns out, the way that the universes contain one another is the ‘skunkworks’ – a mass of pipes, ferrying data from place to place, generating the universe it contains. Physics within those skunkworks are rather different, allowing people to do interesting work to tweak the pipes and keep everything working right.
The main character, Ellie, was raised by her mother to be one of those repair workers, and though she’s still new at it she’s already being regarded as one of the best, it would seem.
From that context, it’s a story about family, in a way- you see a couple references to her sister, Chris, who never actually makes an appearance except for temporarily hijacking someone else’s body.2 Mostly it’s about Ellie’s relationship with her mother.
It’s kinda sad, I must say. But, based on the way everyone is described, I think it’s roughly the best-case scenario.
So, trying to avoid any further spoilers here, go have a read, it’s free.


  1. It wound up jumping in line in my reading list by dint of being in Pocket, rather than on my Kindle. 
  2. Texting would just be too easy, y’know? 
Categories
Review

Lightspeed Magazine: Queers Destroy Science Fiction

Oh man, I am excited about this one. I’ve been wanting to get it since they first announced they were accepting submissions for it, but it wasn’t until the Humble LGBTQ Bundle that I had an excuse to do it.
Now, as this is a big ol’ anthology, I’m going to split it up into a series of mini-reviews, which, unlike how I’ve done anthology reviews in the past, I’ll be writing after reading each story. Without further ado:

Original Short Fiction

There’s rather a lot of short stories in this one, so I’m going to break the organization up the same way the magazine itself does.

勢孤取和 (Influence Isolated, Make Peace)

I’ll admit to Googling the author of this one and the four english words so that I could copy and paste in the other characters above.
I did enjoy that I share a name with one of the characters. That’s about all we’ve got in common, though:

Gray was too hard, too buff, and too tall all at once to truly look human. However, no human ever noticed. Blond haired with intense blue eyes and an irrepressible smile, he and his lightly pink, freckled skin invoked the heartland, middle America, and the Things That Made Us Great. Granted, this would be some sort of middle America where everyone changed the tires on their pick-up trucks by lifting them to chest height with one hand while loosening lug nuts with the other. He’d always been the squad’s candidate for Cyborg Poster Boy.

Anyhow, it’s a short story, and a sweet one at that. Basically, exactly what I wanted from this anthology, so props to the editors for putting it first.
It’s set in the aftermath of some big war – I’d assume against China, but it’s hard to say – where the primary weapons the US used were, apparently, some seriously advanced cyborgs. Who, as a result of the peace treaty, are to be decommissioned – maybe. It’s a whole bit thing, and figuring that out is the core plot point of the story. Or rather, the setting against which it’s built – the core plot point, I’d say, is more of a short, sweet little love story. A good start.

Emergency Repair

Let’s be honest, we all know that the most likely apocalypse at this point is going to be a superintelligence coming out of the Bay Area.1

The work isn’t its own reward, not to me. I wanted the world to see what I could do. I wanted to be the next Einstein, the next Marie Curie. I never thought I’d end up being Oppenheimer instead.

This one is distinctly less happy than the last one, if the quote didn’t tip you off. Less happy sweet, but still sweet.2 And hopeful, in a way. You get the feeling that this could be a movie, if the author wanted it to be- it’d work well as a large-scale cinematic, though this would only be one scene of many.

Trickier With Each Translation

I’m going to leave this one short: time travel is weird, and the time traveller in this one is a creepy, slightly rapacious dude. Grade-A misuse of superpowers, there.

The Astrakhan, the Homburg, and the Red Red Coal

“When bad Americans die, they go to America.”

Personally, I don’t feel like steampunk fits precisely into the category of science fiction, but evidently Lightspeed‘s editors do, as that’s what this is. Sort of a cross between Jamestown and… well, I don’t know what, really.
All I’ve got left to say is that I found this one funnier than I should’ve, mostly because a key plot point boiled down to “the waiter has slept with all but two of the people in the room.”

The Tip of the Tongue

Okay, the love story in this one is cute but oh god is the setting a nightmare. There’s a couple references in there that made me check the date to make sure it wasn’t a riff on Trump’s presidential campaign, but the part that was really scary was the forced illiteracy. The government of this world apparently decided that being able to read was too much power for people.3 So, with some worryingly inaccurate nanotechnology, they erased the ability read from almost their entire population. And ugh, that’s just a nightmare to me. agh.

How to Remember to Forget to Remember the Old War

I’m unclear on where in the timeline this falls. It could easily be right now, and the characters just happen to be extraterrestrials who were shipped off to Northern California for some reason after a war, or it’s a thousand years in the future and the Bay Area is just resolutely remaining the Bay Area. Hard to say.

Plant Children

What Ah Meng loved most, even more than urban myths and fried garlic, was telling Qiyan to bear children. This was Ah Meng’s hobby. At least it kept her busy, Qiyan’s mother said whenever Qiyan got fed up – as if being busy were enough to keep this ancient relic alive to the point of vampirism.

File this one under “okay, maybe I read too much superhero stuff” because I was really expecting a small apocalypse to happen and everyone to be running around trying to fight a bunch of overly-devoted plants.
Instead it was just a sweet little family story. So happy.

Nothing is Pixels Here

The setting for this one is a bit strange – I’m unclear on how the economics of the VR in this world work. Apparently it’s cheaper to keep people’s bodies in medical sedation and let their minds run around separately, doing work on contract? Rather confusing.
But the characters are nice, and a bit sad, but it’s still sweet.

Madeleine

Oh, this was fun. Modern-day setting, with just a hint of science fiction in the results of an experimental Alzheimer’s drug. The main character has to deal with a rather unhelpful psychologist, and it kinda made me think of Sense8,4 what Nomi had to deal with early in the first season.5 Not quite the same, as the protagonist in this one is a cisgender female, but still. Similar disbelief in what she’s going through.

Two By Two

I’m just… not a fan of apocalyptic stories, folks. The universe is already a terrible place,6 so I don’t really see why people feel the need to add to that. And this one had an added bonus of “the friggin’ South turned back into the CSA,” although, to be fair, they did very lightly pretend it wasn’t about being the Confederacy, they’re the Christian States of America. Sigh.

Die, Sophie, Die

“Like what? This ate my life. And for what?” I looked up at her, trying and failing to keep the hopelessness out of my voice. “It was a snarky article about sexism in a video game. That’s it. I’m not an activist, I’m not like Anita or any of them, I just . . . I just wanted to poke fun at these dudes and get my damn check. That’s all. I don’t even know why this blew up so bad. And I hate that nobody cares anymore. It’s just become normal for this to happen.” I sighed. “I should have known better.”

Like I said. The universe is a terrible place, because this is completely realistic.

“You’re crazy,” the guy said.
“Maybe!” I said. “I mean, after being harassed and stalked and sent pictures of my own dead, mutilated body every day for weeks? Because I wrote an article about sexism in a game? Yeah! I’m probably crazy! I’m fine with that.”

Despite the amount of hatred present in this story, it was surprisingly sweet, and happy. Kindness amidst the hatred.

Original Flash Fiction

These are a good bit shorter, so they get shorter reviews.

Melioration

Another one of those “surprise brain surgery” type things, only in this one it’s removing specific words. Which is horribly creepy.

Rubbing is Racing

Advanced technology doesn’t mean advanced tactics; the alien superpowers of this story apparently think it’s worth it to write off an entire civilization to kill some sort of bacteria or something that grows deep in the oceans of the planet. Rather rude, if you ask me.

Helping Hand

Think Gravity but even more alone, and with a quicker ending.

The Lamb Chops

Is… is that one of the Lizard-People?

Mama

I’m still laughing at “Trojan Whores”

Bucket List Found in the Locker of Maddie Price, Age 13, Written Two Weeks Before the Great Uplifting of All Mankind

Man that is one smart 13-year-old.

Deep/Dark Space

I… kinda want this one to be made into an animated horror movie.

A Brief History of Whaling with Remarks Upon Ancient Practices

In names there is found whimsy and poetry enough to betray the human heart.

I really liked this one. My favorite, so far, of the flash fiction section, and anything after it is going to have to work hard to surpass it.

Nothing Goes to Waste

Impostor syndrome?

In the Dawns Between Hours

Folks, history is important.

Increasing Police Visibility

Get it? The joke is that the TSA doesn’t work.

Letter From an Artist to a Thousand Future Versions of Her Wife

Y’know, I feel like there were ways to test out the ansible technology before thousands of people got left without a lifeline because it failed. Just a thought.

Reprint Fiction

Some slightly longer stories, this time.

Black Holes

Across the Atlantic Ocean and underground, Jean-Michel Gregory was speaking to Dr. Benedicta Goeppert about the end of the universe. She felt very strongly about the nature of existence being cyclical, that all matter would eventually return to the state that stimulated the beginning of the universe as we know it – long after humans were extinct and our sun was dead, expanding space would shrink until it was conducive to a big bang and everything that ever was would be again in its earliest, most basic form.

This one was sad, but I’m glad it included that little blurb there, because that’s the sort of thing I think about a lot. It’s what I hope for- because otherwise, it means that the universe will come to an end and that will be it. I hate that idea.

Red Run

This one was pretty sad. Depression is a rough thing.7

CyberFruit Swamp

Y’know, this one probably should’ve been tagged as NSFW, editors.

The Sound of His Wings

I am so confused, folks. But… I think I liked it? Huh.

O Happy Day!

This was… absolutely not what I needed to pick myself up from the terrible mood the news out of Orlando has me in. Agh.

Excerpt: Skin Folk

In this guy’s defense, I also find humans weird and strange. Seriously, biology is weird.

Author Spotlights

Definitely some interesting stuff to read in here, but nothing that I’m going to break down like I have been the stories above.

Nonfiction

A nice little artist’s gallery to start off. I might have to go get the PDF, instead of just the AZW, so I can see some of it in color.
That said, I’m going to stop this review here: It’s more than 2,000 words long, and I never have as much fun writing about nonfiction as I do fiction.8
Even through the bad mood I’m in, though, I can recognize how much I enjoyed this one. You can pick it up on Amazon.


  1. Okay, no, technically I think first place goes to global warming and second place goes to “Cold War defense system triggers itself due to lack of maintenance and we all nuke ourselves to death,” but THIRD place goes to the AI. 
  2. And now I’ve got “Piano Man” stuck in my head. “It’s sad and it’s sweet and I knew it complete…” 
  3. This after they’d already banned art in all its forms, so really just a matter of time once things get that bad. 
  4. Which I haven’t finished, actually, so no spoilers. 
  5. Is the second season out? I’m bad at following TV shows. 
  6. Citation 
  7. The whole “sad mood” was really compounded by the fact that, right before I started reading this one, I got an email from TIME’s Breaking News department saying that 50 people had died and 53 were injured in a mass shooting at a gay club in Orlando. So, yeah, the world remains an awful place. 
  8. Plus, I’ve spent too long reading the news today, so I’ve got a headache and a deep hatred for mankind, so I shouldn’t really be doing much writing anyways. 
Categories
Collection

Finding a simple algorithm for intelligence

Michael Nielsen:

I don’t believe we’ll ever find a simple algorithm for intelligence. To be more concrete, I don’t believe we’ll ever find a really short Python (or C or Lisp, or whatever) program – let’s say, anywhere up to a thousand lines of code – which implements artificial intelligence. Nor do I think we’ll ever find a really easily-described neural network that can implement artificial intelligence. But I do believe it’s worth acting as though we could find such a program or network. That’s the path to insight, and by pursuing that path we may one day understand enough to write a longer program or build a more sophisticated network which does exhibit intelligence. And so it’s worth acting as though an extremely simple algorithm for intelligence exists.

Making progress is all about dreaming big.

Categories
Review

The Alchemist

A quick read, but one that I enjoyed.1 And found oddly familiar, to the point that, in spite of my Kindle’s insistence that I’ve never read it, I think I must have, at some point. Quite a while ago, though, because it was at the very end of the list, sorted by ‘recently read/added,’ and it feels less like deja vu than it does just a hint of familiarity.
That said, it’s a lovely little story. It’s a world of magic, but magic with a price:2 every casting of a spell feeds the bramble, a poisonous plant that grows at an unnatural rate. Things haven’t gone well for the world: the ancient kingdoms cast magic without thinking of the fallout3 and fell to the bramble. The protagonist is a man already broken: his wife died, his wealth faded, and his daughter is sick with an unsurvivable illness. Largely because of his choice to fight the bramble rather than continue making expensive trinkets for the rich.
But then, at the very lowest point, as his daughter is about to die, he discovers something: a way to kill the bramble.
And for that moment, you think things are going to go well for him, but he’s not a rich man, and he can’t afford to mass-produce his invention. So he goes to the Mayor. And politics happen.
I won’t say much more than that – a short story gets a short review. But I’ll say that I liked it a lot more than the last book I reviewed. So, without further ado, go give it a read, it’s pretty cheap on Amazon.


  1. I’m going to put in a note here to say that this isn’t the first result that comes up when you search for “The Alchemist,” it’s the one by Paolo Bacigalupi. Entertainingly, the first result is by a different Paolo. 
  2. Which actually might be why this seems familiar – Anatopsis is another great book about the price of magic. I read that book in middle school, forgot the title, and then spent years trawling through the local library trying to find it again. I knew exactly where it should’ve been – in the old building. But in the time between my first reading of it and when I wanted to read it again, the library moved into the nice new building.
    I think I eventually managed to find it with a very strange google search – something like “book talking dog red cover female main character’s name starts with a.” One of those “how in god’s name did Google figure out what I meant?” sort of searches. 
  3. cough-global-warming-cough 
Categories
Review

The Secret Garden

“Of course there must be lots of Magic in the world,” he said wisely one day, “but people don’t know what it’s like or how to make it. Perhaps the beginning is just to say nice things are going to happen until you make them happen.”

I’ve had this book on my Kindle for a long time. I think it was one of the first ones on there, to be honest – I grabbed it off of Project Gutenberg, I believe, back when I first got my Kindle.1 I’ve just never gotten around to reading it.
This past Sunday, I’d just finished reading through the Queers Destroy Science Fiction issue of Lightspeed Magazine.2 Now, if you don’t know, Lightspeed is a periodical collection of science fiction stories, usually fairly short. The review, when it goes up, is pretty substantial – I wrote a short review of each of those short stories. Which meant that, every few minutes or so, I was putting down my Kindle and doing a bit of typing on my laptop.
It was during one of those times that I got a Breaking News email from Time. “50 people killed in Orlando nightclub shooting,” read the subject line. I opened the email, and it felt like a punch to the stomach. In the middle of Pride Month, while I was halfway through a collection of queer-focused science fiction in the larger process of reading through everything I’d picked up in the Pride Month Humble Bundle, I read this:

At least 50 people were killed and another 53 wounded after a gunman opened fire in an Orlando gay nightclub early Sunday morning, officials said. The death count makes the attack the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

The rest of the day, I kept reading. I couldn’t think of anything else to do.3 Lightspeed was a mix of sad and happy stories; the happy ones felt like throwing teacups of water on a blazing inferno, the sad like being pulled further underwater. My “writing” breaks got longer and longer as I took time to check on the news, Twitter, Facebook – anywhere that I could find out more about what had happened. I kept hoping something would change for the better, but it wouldn’t.4 The tragedy had already happened; all that was left was cleaning up afterwards.
It was heartbreaking. It still is – I’m being thankful I took the time to learn to touch-type, because if I had to do the whole ‘hunt-and-peck’ thing, writing this would take me ages. It’s hard to hunt for a specific key when your eyes are full of tears.
At the end of the day, I started flipping through my Kindle, trying to find something new to read. The last couple of books from the Humble Bundle had lost their allure, as had the stack of science fiction. I wanted something different than what I’d spent the day doing. Clearly, the queer-focused science fiction hadn’t worked to take my mind off the tragedy.
Sitting at the very end of the list, just above the dictionary folder5 was The Secret Garden. It’s certainly different, I thought. And it is: a book written more than 100 years ago probably couldn’t be more diametrically opposite a bunch of queer science fiction if it tried.
And while I’m not normally one for believing in fate or god or any such higher power, this is the kind of thing that if someone had conspired to write it into the way things should be, that would be some beautiful predestination. This book was exactly what I needed right now.
Because, sure, the dated phrasing is a bit strange at times,6 and the painstakingly-written-out accents are rather hard to read at first. But beyond that, the story is something pure and innocent.
The first almost-half of the book isn’t that way; it’s the story of a terrible little girl, the result of the sort of horrible parenting where you can call it “terrible parenting” even after the tragic death of her parents.7 She’s always gotten what she wanted, and she’s used to getting it from servants who wouldn’t dare talk back to her. She is, basically, the worst-case scenario for a ten-year-old. After the death of her parents – something that barely affects her, as she rarely if ever saw them – she’s sent from India8 to Yorkshire, in the ‘care’ of her uncle.9
Once there, though, she begins to explore. She’s told of a ‘forbidden garden,’ hidden away from the world after her uncle’s beloved wife was injured there, eventually leading to her death. Being the little brat that she is, she goes to find it.
And there, the Magic starts to happen.
Throughout the book, you see her become a better person – so slowly that she’s not aware of it, and the reader only notices because the narrator makes the occasional effort to point it out.
And it’s not just her – a few other characters are introduced, and her growth as a person helps to kick-start the same process for several others.
Now, I’ll insert a warning here: spoilers ahead. Normally I refuse to write about anything past, oh, the halfway point of the book or so. If you want to go read this from a fresh standpoint, you can pick it up for free on Amazon or free at Project Gutenberg.
Again: spoilers ahead. If you don’t want to know how it ends, stop reading.
All clear?
Alright, I’ll go on.
As I got to the end of the book, I was starting to get suspicious – nothing can be this happy, this perfect and pure, can it? Everything is going too well. Good things just don’t happen.
But sometimes they do.
Sometimes you get the perfect happy ending, where everything goes just right. Nobody has to die, and everyone can be happy and healthy and alive.
And I think that’s the sort of thing we need to remember, in the wake of a tragedy like Orlando. Even if it sometimes seems like nothing good ever happens, that nothing gold can stay, that’s just not true. There are so many good people in the world. So many good things.
It’s important to keep that in mind. So if you, like me, need something good and pure and happy to remind you of that, then I absolutely recommend this book. Like I said above, you can pick it up for free on Amazon or Project Gutenberg.
Go do something joyful. Remember that there’s good in the world.


  1. When I got my first Kindle, in fact. It’s been sitting in my “list of things to read” for a long time. 
  2. The review of that one will be posted in a couple weeks; I’m bumping this one ahead of schedule for reasons I’ll get into in a bit. 
  3. It’s the first time this summer that I’ve felt truly homesick – I’m 2,000 miles from home, and while most of the time I’ve been fine, this is the sort of situation where you want to be surrounded by loved ones. 
  4. The worst of it, which I feel a morbid need to share, is a Facebook post that made the rounds (in screenshot form), originally posted by someone named Andy Carvin:
    > RE: the Orlando shooting, CNN just described something I’ve never thought of – as investigators are inside the nightclub, where many of the bodies are still where they fell, they have to tune out the nightmarish sound of all of the deceased phones’ ringing constantly as loved ones try to reach them. #shudder 
  5. It lives at the end of the list; hard-coded. 
  6. My original ‘social media post’ title for this was “The Secret Garden,” or, “you know there are objectives other than ‘queer,’ right?”, but once I’d gotten into the swing of writing it didn’t seem quite right. 
  7. Normally dying in a sad way can erase some of that blame, but “you, servant-woman, make sure I never see this child” is a whole new level of awful parenting. 
  8. As John Oliver called it, ‘the country formerly known as “Great Britain’s spice rack.”’ 
  9. He makes two appearances throughout the book; I’m forced to assume that part of being wealthy in Britain is having the portion of your brain that knows how to deal with children be forcibly removed. 
Categories
Collection

Word processors

Baldur Bjarnason:

I don’t write primarily in markdown because the format is nice but because markdown apps like Ulysses and Byword value the joy of writing as well as the need for structure. They recognise that writing is equal parts emotional and executive reasoning. Favour emotional logic too much and you get Apple’s glossy, wrapped-in-plastic writing experience. Favour executive reasoning too much and you get Microsoft Office’s kitchen-sink-included helicarrier.

I do all of my writing in Ulysses, and it’s a joy – full Markdown support, with one or two extra touches1 that make everything easy.
As to the Pages vs. Word debate, I tend to use Word – Pages is distinctly easier to use, but it lacks a couple features that I need whenever I’m using a ‘full’ word processor.2


  1. Like their footnote macro, which replaces markdown’s clunky [^footnoteID]/[^footnoteID]: content syntax with a quick, easy (fn) and typing into a popover. 
  2. And I have Office anyways, because the terabyte of OneDrive space and my need for Excel’s power features necessitate it.