Sunday, June 12, 2016

For Future Reference

"'No Way To Prevent This,' Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens"
—Recurring story in "The Onion"

Self-focusing Eyeglasses

A tech startup in Israel is using technology from smart-phone cameras to develop eyeglasses that can auto focus on whatever you are looking at. It is several years out in development, but as someone who recently went to progressive lenses, I believe the proper meme in this case is shut up and take my money. Of course that does mean that some years down the road, I will have to recharge my glasses every night...

Saturday, June 11, 2016

An Unusual Narrative: The Interface Series

For those that follow high weirdness on the Internet, a new thing has appeared. A series of posts on reddit in a variety of different forums weaves a disturbing narrative. Like Fringe, the writings take the CIA LSD experiments of MKUltra and use it as a jumping off point, but these vignettes are of a significantly darker tone. They touch on geopolitical events, from WWII through the Vietnam War and the Korean War and into a future, and cultural events from Charlie Manson to Michael Jackson to, of course, the Internet itself. All have a heavy conspiracy theory flavor. Altogether, a good horror mythology. It is known as The Interface Series, referring to recurring "flesh interface" objects.

Horror is often a metaphor for something else. My interpretation of the obvious through-line here would be addiction, but there is likely enough that other things may suggest themselves. Perhaps some social commentary, or mental illness. And I suppose it would be best to say that this is not for children or those sensitive to disturbing imagery. It remains to be seen whether the tales will end like Fringe (directionless and far past its point of natural resolution), like Lost (bogged down by its own unanswerable questions until it became exactly what it was promised not to be), or Battlestar Galactica (the 2004 version, adrift without internal consistency, undermining its own prior material), or simply peter out as the Internet's attention moves on. And no, I do not think it will come to a satisfying conclusion. Such things don't, it is part of the pattern, part of the metaphor. Perhaps the metaphor self-actualizing.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Quote of the Moment

"'Where must we go… we who wander this Wasteland in search of our better selves?' The First History Man"
–George Miller, Mad Max Fury Road

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Bookworming: The Aeronaut's Windlass

The Aeronaut's Windlass, Jim Butcher, **
As the kick off of a new series from Butcher in the loose genre of steampunk, I went in with high expectations. Too high as it turned out. I have two complaints: one-note characters and general lack of motivations. The bones are all there, the world building with its ancient constructs and crystal-magic technology provides a good backdrop. Unfortunately there just isn't much meat on them. The team of rag-tag heroes come together for the thinnest of reasons, and none of them have even a hint of character arc.  Worse, the bad guys come off as jealous jerks or simply crazy. Butcher's kinetic storytelling remains in full force, and the book is a quick and moderately enjoyable read. But that's about all. If you want me to embark on another long-running series, I'm not sure that is enough. I struggled with whether to give this one a two or three rating, but since I am generally a fan of Butcher's work and the setting is at least adjacent to my wheelhouse, I have to go with my gut and give this one a "meh".

Friday, April 29, 2016

Quote of the Moment Regarding Game of Thrones

"What sets it apart is not the monsters, the nudity, or the festering gallons of gratuitous gore, but the overwhelming sense that the plot got run off the rails three books ago and is being steered towards a terrible precipice by a bunch of bickering, power-mad maniacs. This, coincidentally, happens to be the plot of the entire 21st century so far." —Laurie Penny, in New Republic

In which I realize I like Game of Thrones so much not because it's swords and sorcery fantasy, but because it's actually existential horror.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Bookworming: East of West, Vol. 1

East of West, Volume 1: The Promise, Jonathan Hickman, Nick Dragotta, and Frank Martin, **
I'm conflicted on this one. When I spotted this sci-fi western with mythological influences, I immediately grabbed the first trade. The art is beautiful, the pacing is fast, and the plot is... the plot is... well, that's were the conflict comes in. On one hand, this is a simple revenge story painted in broad strokes along the lines of, say, Kill Bill. Death and his companions are supremely effective and the tropes of the Western anti-hero are well used. On the other hand it is a mess of unexplained nonsense. Why would anyone in a position of power also be in an apocalypse cult? Why are three of the Horsemen being reborn and why are they so cranky about what Death is up to? It is so close to being something I would love, but it just does not provide enough meat to cover the interesting bones. Which takes me to an aside about comics.

I have never been a comics person. I like the art, I like many of the premises, but the format of the monthly comic is just too constraining. Thirty-ish pages just isn't enough to create the depth I want the stories to have. And this one is a case where it really detracts for me. In the end I am undecided whether to continue on in the series in spite of my interests in similar subject matters. Thus, based on the first five issues, I don't really recommend it.

Bookworming: The Way of Kings

The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive #1), Brandon Sanderson, ***
Oh my, I've gone and started in on another giant unfinished fantasy series... The Way of Kings sets the stage in a world where massive storms charge crystals with energy which is used to power magic, alchemy, and magic-tech artifacts. Most powerful and coveted of these artifacts are the shardblades and shardplate, respectively lightsaber and power armor analogs. On the good side, Sanderson does a wonderful job creating a world that is not another dark ages Europe riff. In this case, the massive, recurring storms produce a landscape that seems inspired by both desert and aquatic boundary lands. The magical elements both fit into and inform the society on display. And the characters have fairly well done motivations. Unfortunately, not everything is as well put together as the worldbuilding and magic.

As you might expect with the first of an intended ten book series, it has a serious case of not-finished-here plotting. To the point that one of the three primary threads seems to exist only to set up for the next book. The introductory chapter should have been excised for use way down the road when it will presumably have more context as it was never referred to again in the story. One glaring issue for me constitutes a spoiler so I can't go into it too much. I will just say that there are a couple moments where personal codes result in decisions that really, really don't make sense in the framework of the novel's world. One of them in particular is completely pivotal to a character's arc, and while it didn't completely kill my enjoyment, it sure did pull me out enough to see the plot gears grinding underneath.

So what we have here is an extremely well done world with some fairly well put together characters in a story that doesn't completely conclude itself within the pages. My verdict? If you enjoy swords and sorcery epics, and can tolerate the multi-year waits inherent to the multi-volume series, you will find much to like here.