Saturday, May 31, 2008

So What's With the Shouting?

I've been watching movies about heroism this week. We caught Iron Man this afternoon, and during the course of the week I watched last year's Beowulf.

There was a lot not to like about Beowulf. The CGI gave the players' faces an immobility that was distracting and annoying. (At times I thought I'd wandered into a Shrek film by accident.) Beowulf's stolid face had me longing for the thespian stylings of Arnold Schwartzenegger. Robin Wright Penn was about at sexy as a turnip, which is a downright criminal way to treat Robin Wright Penn. The ending just went on and on, with one unbelievable piece of action after another. (I know I'm supposed to be excited by these things, but I find complete detachment from reality to be pretty dull.)

I watched it on my old-school television, not in its 3D version, so I was not thrilled, and was sometimes puzzled, by the 3D effects.

Naked Angelina Jolie, it has to be said, I liked. We need more of that sort of thing in cinema.

Despite the fact that I really disliked this movie, I found myself liking the script, by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary. The script was for a subtler film than the one I saw, and made on about a third of the budget--- one that would have to depend on acting chops and not CGI.

The thing I disliked most about the movie was the shouting. Almost everyone, Beowulf in particular, delivered their dialog at the top of their lungs. I noticed this in 300 also. Only villains speak in a normal tone of voice. People who talk in normal tones are creepy and sneaky. Heroes are loud, blustering, rude, boastful, and bodybuilders. Are bodybuilders more manly if they shout louder than anyone else? Is it the steroids?

If you're a bodybuilder with a sword, and you shout down everyone else, are you a leader or just an asshole?

Is shouting the new heroic?

(Note to action directors: shouting removes subtlety of expression from dialog. You're stealing the actors' best chance to interpret their lines in interesting ways. Just a tip, y'know, from a complete amateur.)

The shouting also hurts the ears.

Iron Man, it should be noted, does not shout. Nor did it have loud music in the action scenes to tell you how excited you should be. It broke all the rules of summer blockbuster movies, especially the ones that state that all the acting should be wretched and the characterization nonexistent and that the plot should make no sense.

It was a fine film, with interesting characters and situations, and when the hero said "I am /B/e/o/w/u/l/f/ Iron Man," he didn't shout and in fact he sort of mumbled.

The final confrontation went on and on, the way they do, but I've got used to that (while quietly longing for the days when Bogart would just shoot the villain, and the bad guy would clutch his chest and die, and that would be that).

Y'know, it occurs to me that if you're a hero, you shouldn't have to shout. If you're a hero, people listen to you even if you whisper.

If only Hollywood knew that.

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. . . and speaking of Iron Man

Here we have the video for the Berkeley Bionics Exoskeleton, being demonstrated by our first military superman. (I'd call him a Starship Trooper, except that he lacks the rocket boots--- and of course the starship.) The exoskeleton can carry up to 200 pounds of gear without transferring any of the weight to the user. The user can run, march, crawl, and pretty much behave as a soldier should--- just don't ask him to jump or to cross a muddy field.

Handicapped people should also benefit greatly from this.

And we have competition in the exoskeleton business--- here's Raytheon's more gorilloid version. Observe the operator's moves based on the Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots.

And, of course, here's the Total Geek Version.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Memorial Day

On Memorial Day, I had a couple choices. I could hang around the con hotel and watch Balticon die, or I could get in my rental car and cruise off in search of history.
As you can see, this is not a picture of the con hotel.
We are looking south across the Miller Cornfield. On the left of the picture are the East Woods; the treeline directly ahead is the West Woods.
On the morning of September 17, 1862, the corn in the field would have been taller than anyone walking in the field. Two and a half corps of Union soldiers, 21,500 men, grappled across this field with about 14,500 Confederates in a stand-up fight that lasted about four and a half hours. The Cornfield exchanged hands something like 15 times. Both sides fought to the point of exhaustion: combined casualties were something like 13,000. One Union corps commander was killed, another wounded.
When the fighting over the Cornfield ended at 10am, the battle itself wasn't over. More Federal units charged into battle against Confederates sheltering in the aptly-named Bloody Lane in a fight that was even more horrendous. And later in the day, Burnside's command got across the aptly-named Burnside Bridge, broke the Confederate line, and came within an ace of winning the war.
The Battle of Antietam--- or Sharpsburg, if you're unreconstructed--- was the single bloodiest day in American history. There were 23,000 casualties altogether, 25% of the Union army and 33% of the Confederate. That's over seven 9/11s happening in a single day, or eight Pearl Harbors, or three D-Days (counting American casualties only).
There were also a large number of generals killed--- though I can't find an exact total, I presume the largest number of American generals killed on any given day. In those days, generals had to lead their men into the fight personally.
Tactically the battle was a draw. The two armies beat each other to a pulp, and very little ground changed hands. But Robert E. Lee was forced to end his invasion of the North, which allowed the Union to declare a strategic victory, which produced just a large enough of a bump in Yankee morale to allow Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.
Which freed four million slaves, at least on paper. Another 600,000 or so deaths were required to make their freedom an actuality.
The proclamation also kept the British and French out of the war. They were too embarrassed to be seen fighting for slavery.
I wandered around the battlefield--- there's a self-guiding tour--- and took pictures. I pretty much knew the broad outlines of the battle going in--- if you don't, I'd recommend hiring one of the guides available to give you a personal tour, because otherwise it's mostly countryside without a lot of context.
The small size of the Cornfield surprised me. I knew how many people had clashed here: they must have been packed in like sardines, and died much the same way.
Afterwards I stopped by the national cemetery, which is full only of Union dead--- the Confederates were repatriated to their home states. About a third of the total are buried there, in rows, with smallish headstones that after a century and a half are just barely legible. Since it was Memorial Day, each grave also bore a flag, very bright and cheerful in the afternoon sun.
I have been trying to think of something profound to say about the experience, but I can't better what Lincoln said a year later, so I'll just quote the Emancipator:
"We can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."
Afterwards I drove to Harper's Ferry, site of John Brown's raid, just to have a look around. There were huge holiday crowds, no parking, and not a lot of time, but I enjoyed the place, utterly picturesque, completely indefensible, and surrounded by tall, commanding hills. (Or "mountains," as they seem to be called out East.)
Then I drove to the nearby home of my Taos Toolbox student Oz Whiston, where she, her husband Jason, and her daughter Eloise provided an evening of pleasant company and a lovely dinner, sweet corn, new potatoes, and weisswurst. (They live in the German part of Virginia.)
On my return to Baltimore I found that Balticon had managed to die without my help, and began packing for my return trip. (Which sucked, but that's for another day.)

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

To Baltimore--- and Beyond!

I'm off to Balticon, and will check in from there if the Internet gods are willing.

Turns out I'm on programming after all--- a reading at noon on Sunday, followed by a signing at one.

(At least I managed to avoid the Williams Hour--- ten o'clock on Sunday morning, when the only audience I get are the drunk guys who haven't been to bed.)

Anyway, hope to see you all there.


Big Idea, Over There

If you're sick of me talking about Implied Spaces on this blog, you can go to John Scalzi's blog and read my essay about Implied Spaces over there.

Yes, Mr. Scalzi has very kindly allowed me to contribute to his Big Idea feature.

Now if only the book would show up in the stores. (Tapping foot, looking anxiously at watch.)

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Monday, May 19, 2008

My Balticon Schedule

Where to find me at Balticon?

The hotel lobby, most likely. Or the bar.

Because I'm not on any of the programming. Apparently I joined too late.

On the other hand, this means greater opportunity for you to engage me in chat.

Feel free to do so. I won't bite--- or of I do, it won't be without fair warning.


A Brief but Definitive Incursion of Real Life

So I returned from my idyllic week in the mountains to this:

1. A refrigerator that has more or less given up the ghost.
2. The dryer, ditto.
3. A cat with a serious, serious, serious attack of diarrhea. (You do not want me to post a cute cat picture here, no you don't.)
4. An elderly man afflicted with Alzheimer's wandering lost in my front yard.

Dealt with thus:

1. A new refrigerator arrives on Wednesday.
2. The repairman will be called next week, after I get back from Balticon.
3. Trip to the vet.
4. Reminding the old gent where he lives, and steering him there.

On Wednesday I leave for Balticon and, umm, some other stuff, so all crises must be dealt with by Tuesday, on pain of, well, causing me a lot of pain.

Number One

Implied Spaces, despite not as yet having demonstrated physical existence, is now ranked Number One in Amazon's list for Science Fiction & Fantasy.

Which is sort of, umm, amazing.

I humbly thank you all for participating in this rather miraculous event.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Week in the Mountains

Only the highlights, now.

Sunday dinner, by Walter:

Royal roast leg of lamb with saffron and raisin sauce (shahi raan).
Chicken smothered in aromatic herbs and almonds (badaami murgh)
Chickpeas in ginger sauce (safaid channi)
Spinach cooked clarified butter with ginger and spices (saag)
Hot curried watermelon
Saffron pilaf
Dessert: mangoes caramelized in butter, brown sugar, and brandy, with cream.


"The Curandero," by Daniel Abraham.
"His Heart's Desire," by S.C. Butler

Dinner by Maureen:

Rustic roast pork loin with garlic and ginger
Crispy roasted potatoes
Roasted carrots, onions, and apples
Dessert: apple bread pudding with cream


"The Naturalist" (screenplay), by Maureen McHugh

Dinner by Catherynne Valente

Linguini and shrimp in a goat cheese sauce with roasted poblano peppers and cilantro.
Sweet Greek salad of fresh tomatoes, onions, zucchini, cilantro, and fresh pineapple in balsamic dressing.
Baguettes with cilantro pesto
Dessert: mangoes and pumpkin seeds in dulce de leche


"The River Bank," by Kristin Livdahl
Untitled Edge series story, by Melinda Snodgrass

Dinner by Walter

Poached shrimp in remoulade sauce
Chef Francoise's black roux gumbo with chicken and sausage
Dessert: bananas Foster flamed in brandy.


Untitled Jack Vance tribute story, by Walter
Untitled story by Ian Tregillis

Dinner by Melinda:

Coq au vin
White rice
Vegetarian pot pie
Dessert: hot fudge sundaes.


Breakfast French toast with cinnamon and Triple Sec

"World Fantasy" by Alan DeNiro
"Game of Chance" by Carrie Vaughn

Dinner by Maureen:
Whipped brie on toasted baguettes drizzled with a balsamic reduction.
Hell's Kitchen Chili
Roasted green beans
Dessert: hot fudge sundaes redux


Excerpt from "The Spindle of Necessity" by Catherynne Valente

Dinner: at a restaurant.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Hot Curried Watermelon

Mens sana in corpore sano, as we say here at Rio Hondo. High-level literary criticism, bracing outdoor activities, drinking and relaxing, and eating food as good as the stories. Here's a typical day:

1. Critique stories by the likes of Daniel Abraham, Maureen McHugh, Ian Tregillis, or Alan DeNiro.

2. Forced march over the snow-covered 13,000-foot Williams Lake pass. (Tasers keep those sluggish SF geeks moving briskly)

3. Find bighorn sheep.

4. Kill it and butcher it on the spot.

5. Forced march back to the lodge, carrying the dripping meat on our shoulders.

6. Relax with beer in the hot tub while the Big Horn Chili simmers on the stove.

7. Eat vastly.

8. Repeat.

I may exaggerate a little for effect, but that's pretty much what we're up to.

The first night's dinner was an Indian extravaganza cooked by me. Daniel mentioned that Rio Hondo was the only time when he ever got to eat hot curried watermelon, and since I'm not secretive about my recipes--- especially the ones I cut out of the paper--- I thought I might share it with the adventurous-minded among you.



1/4 of a large watermelon cut into 1-inch cubes (10 cups)

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1 1/2 teaspoons ground red pepper (or to taste)

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon chopped or pureed garlic

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons oil

1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 tablespoon lime juice

1/2 tablespoon sugar

Drain off one cup of the watermelon juice, or puree enough watermelon to make a cup.

To watermelon juice, add paprika, red pepper, turmeric, coriander, garlic, and salt.

Heat the oil in a skiller over high heat and add cumin seeds. After 20 seconds, add the juice. Lower the heat and simmer until the juice is reduced by one-third.

Add lime juice and sugar. Add watermelon pieces and toss over low heat 3-4 minutes, until they are heated through. Do not overheat, as the watermelon will start to dissolve.

Serve immediately.

Will serve 4.

This is a very nice dish for summer, and will really surprise your guests.

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

To The Mountains

I'm off to Rio Hondo, in the mountains above Taos. Be back in a week--- refreshed, I hope.

Carry on. Please fix publishing while I'm away.

Publishing . . . Huh?

So this acquaintance of mine, who works for a Government Agency That Shall Not Be Named, was sent to a business seminar. Government departments are all about getting leaner and meaner these days, so Joe (as we shall call him) was sent off to learn about efficiency and just-in-time inventory and, in general, the Tao of Toyota.

As part of the course, Joe was asked to flow-chart a particular business. Since Joe knew a writer, he created a flow chart of the publishing business. He presented it to the class and to his instructors.

And the reaction was, basically, "Huh . . . ?"

The first thing asked was, "Who is the writer's client, exactly?"

Which is a hard one to answer. Because the author's ultimate client is the reading public, but the actual client, the one who forks over the money, is the editor.

"So who is the editor responsible to?"

Another hard one to answer. Because the editor is responsible to the publisher, or to the publisher's stand-in, in the forms of various committees to which the editor is expected to present her plans. But power is also held by the sales force--- I wish I had ten thousand dollars, or even ten, for every time I've heard an editor say, "I can't sell this proposal . . . the sales force won't understand it."

(Once--- exactly once--- I heard of an editor who told his sales chief, "Your job is to sell the fucking books that I tell you to fucking sell, and if you don't fucking sell them, you're out of a fucking job!" And that editor was John Jarrold, who is English, and maybe they do things differently over there.)

So Joe presented his flow-chart of publishing, with the editor, and the committees, and the sales force, and the art department.

"Who is the art department responsible to?"

Well, very often, they're responsible to no one. The art department is often a separate fiefdom within the publisher, and they put whatever art they like on a cover, or no art at all, and if the editor and writer don't like it, they can lump it.

And then there's the copy-editor--- who is freelance, essentially in a fiefdom all his own--- and even worse, the distributors.

"Who are the distributors responsible to?"

Well, no one. They buy whatever the hell books they want, based on whatever pitch the sales person gives them plus the computer figures for the writer's last set of sales, and if they don't sell the books, they can ship them back to the publisher for a full refund. Or even destroy them, and still get a full refund. They get all the privileges of being a middleman, and none of the risk. None. Zero.

One of the things they teach you at Toyota Camp is that for every step in the process in which something can go wrong--- for every committee, or editor, or art director, or copy-editor, or distributor--- that stands between the writer and the reading public, the odds of something going totally, hideously, horribly pear-shaped somewhere in the process does not increase arithmatically, but geometrically.

So if there are, say, seven potential roadblocks between the author and the reader, the effective number of roadblocks aren't seven, but forty-nine. Because friction begets more friction, basically.

(I have to say, as a personal note, that this theory explains the fate of my last seven novels rather well.)

The people at the seminar threw up their hands.

"We don't see how this business can possibly make money!"

And, of course, most books don't make money--- of if they do, they barely break even. For every huge mega-zillion best-seller, there are ten thousand books that are quietly flushed down the toilet of doom, along with the careers of their authors.

So why doesn't the industry concentrate on huge mega-zillion bestsellers? Well, they do--- that's why publishers' ads in, say, the New York Times literary supplement are mostly for authors who are so fabulously popular that they don't actually need the ads to sell their books. That's why publishers are shedding their mid-list authors (authors like me, only less lucky) left and right.

But even as mega-zillion bestsellers go, the publishers' record truly sucks. For every Da Vinci Code, which was turned into a megaseller through clever marketing, there are ten, or fifteen, or a hundred for which a lot of marketing dollars were spent only to produce disappointing sales. And for every Da Vinci Code, there's a Lovely Bones that became a huge seller through word of mouth--- or word of Oprah, or word of book clubs, or (most likely) word of Internet.

I once saw an article in which the books that publishers thought would become bestsellers (based on their marketing push) were compared with a list of actual bestsellers, and the lists were very, very different.

Bestselling authors mostly just sort of happen. It's sort of like throwing a bunch of books out of a tenth-storey window and hoping that one of them lands in a pot of gold.

So once you get a bestselling author--- however you get him--- you want to keep him, so you pay him more and more and hope his books earn it all back, eventually, and then some. Which is a strategy that sometimes works, or at any rate works often enough to keep publishers in business.

I won't go into how the folks at Toyota Camp assumed that writers all have personal assistants to do things like answer email, run manuscripts to the post office, arrange signings, keep the web page up to date, make coffee, keep the office tidy, furnish the author with healthful snacks, and so on. They were astonished that authors, unless they are very successful indeed, have to do this all themselves--- or not, as is often the case.

This explains author's burnout, by the way. Most authors in the SF genre have a writing life of about ten years, after which they do something more rational with their lives, like get a job teaching writing in a Midwest liberal arts school. (Oh yeah, there's a job with a future!)

So, to conclude, how do we apply the Tao of Toyota to publishing? Obviously, we need to reduce the number of roadblocks between the author and the reading public. An obvious way to do this is to make the books available electronically--- reader pays a few bucks for a download, author's bank account goes ching!, reader and author are happy. Except that this doesn't seem to actually work--- even Stephen King couldn't make a go out of directly selling his work on the Internet.

I don't have an answer, so I'm going to leave it to you.

I'm going to be out of town for a week. It's hard to say whether or not I'll be on the Internet or not during that time.

So during my absence I leave you with this challenge.

Publishing is broke. Come up with some ideas to fix it.

Thank you.

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Revised Pub Date

So problems with the printer are presumably resolved, and I now hear that the revised publication date for Implied Spaces is now May 20.
2008, if you were beginning to wonder.
Bate your breath, the book is coming!

Blaxploitation Plus!

Last week Turner Classic Movies had a double feature of Blacula and Scream, Blacula, Scream. This is not exactly the sort of fare for which I subscribe to Turner Classic Movies, but I managed to stand it for, oh, ninety minutes or so, mainly thanks to the lead actor, William Marshall. Here was this classically trained Shakespearean actor, with enormous stage presence and a deep, resonant opera-singer's voice . . . and in his best-known role he's wearing a cheesy cape, outrageous sideburns, and plastic fangs.

Such is the way of popular culture. You end up remembered for the stuff you'd rather forget.

Still, Marshall manages to give the character a tragic dimension. (Tragic, that is, beyond the fact that he's a 200-year-old African prince who wakes up in an LA full of blaxploitation stereotypes.)

The films were a reasonably successful cross between low-budget horror and blaxploitation, which was low-budget by definition. All the vampire tropes, plus big afros, a good-looking love interest, tall heels, a protagonist who wreaks vengeance on Whitey (particularly when Whitey's wearing a police uniform), and really great period dialogue. ("Hey, dude, that's a baaaaad cape!")

Of course it was produced by a white guy, Samuel Z. Arkoff, who claimed that "Arkoff" stood for "Action, Revolution, Killing, Oratory, Fantasy, Fornication," all of which he tried to include in each of his movies. (There are those who claim it can't be blaxploitation if it wasn't made by a white film company, a contention I don't propose to explore.)

Blacula kicked off a whole series of horror/blaxploitation crossover movies. Blaxploitation crosses pretty well with other genres. There's Cleopatra Jones (blaxploitation/Bond films), The Legend of Nigger Charley (blaxploitation/Westerns), and The Last Dragon (blaxploitation/martial arts).

But why did it stop there? I mean, we had all these talented black actors, and plenty of producers like Arkoff and Roger Corman, and a whole tradition of doing all-black versions of formerly white fare such as The Wizard of Oz and Hello, Dolly.

Why not blaxploitation war pictures? Foxy Brown, She-Wolf of the SS! I mean, I'd pay for that!

Blaxploitation/sword and sandal: Jive Sucka Caesar. (And come to think of it, if you remember that Maciste was supposed to be black, you could say that blaxploitation and sword-and-sandal were together from the beginning!)

And we've already got Afro Samurai, starring the voice of Samuel L. Jackson, so I guess that particular crossover has already been crossed.

There really haven't been any blaxploitation/science fiction crossovers that I know of (Brother from Another Planet doesn't count--- it was too sincere to be exploitative.) Fear of a Black Planet would be a pretty good title.

What genres have I missed? Feel free to exploit this topic!

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Go Boom

So Wired's defense blog has posted an interesting article on the reactive materials revolution, followed immediately by the usual posts questioning exactly how revolutionary this is, and whether it would really work.

Whatever the case, it has to be said that this is pretty damn science-fictional. Picture your basic 5000-pound bunker-busting bomb, of which only 800 pounds is explosive, and the rest the steel casing. Then replace the steel casing with explosive that only goes off under certain circumstances. So instead of delivering 800 pounds of explosive to the target, you get two and a half tons of stuff that goes boom, perhaps in the form of a shaped charge designed to blast through, well, pretty much anything.

This applies to any form of munition: artillery shells, grenades, small-arms ammunition, and the parts of a rocket that aren't concerned with propulsion or guidance. Plus this may prove a boost to the Navy's rail-gun program.

You have to get a little worried when it comes to small-arms ammo, though. All that investment in body armor and armored vehicles, all gone, and our biggest tanks turned to swiss cheese by some guy with a medium-sized machien gun.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Gilded Falcons

For Dashiell Hammett fans--- and who isn't?--- we have new clews to the possible origin of both the Maltese Falcon and the Continental Op.

"Resting on the North entrance at Baltimore Street are two gold-gilded birds that could be mistaken for resting eagles, buty they're not, instead, they're falcons. Why, you may ask, is this significant? Because the Continental Trust building was also the location of the Baltimore office of the Pinkerton agency, which counted among its employees in the early '20s a gentleman from Southern Md., name of Dashiell Hammett--who would go on to write "The Maltese Falcon". He must have spent a lot of time looking at those big gilded falcons every morning."

So Hammett spend his days as a detective working out of the Continental building, and staring every day at gilded falcons? In Baltimore?

Naw--- gotta be a coincidence.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Engine With A Difference

Charles Babbage's Difference Engine No. 2, designed by 1849 but never built due to its complexity, has been built by the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. (There's another one in the London Science Museum.)

It weighs tons, is powered by a single human turning a crank, and operates flawlessly.

Here's the video.

And, because this one has a better view of the mechanical parts in operation, here's another video showing a difference engine made from standard Meccano parts.

(from Chairman Bruce)

Friday, May 02, 2008

Another Strong Tide of Reviews, Washing In . . .

Sometimes I think I should just stop talking about me in this space. Because, y'know, even though I'm firmly convinced the universe is entirely about me, it seems graceless to keep pointing it out to people who, however worthy, are by the mere fact of exclusion not who the universe is about.

But then, if you're reading this at all, it's because you're interested in me right now, not someone else.
Still, I feel I should warn you that, if you're getting a little tired of me telling you about other people who think I'm pretty darn neat, you can skip this entry. I--- and the universe--- will forgive you.
Another couple reviews have come in for Implied Spaces, which in spite of not having appeared on any bookstore shelf continues to generate enthusiasm.
The first from colleague Tobias Buckell. "Implied Spaces has been the treat of the month for me. Flushed with a reader's high just after finishing the last page I mentioned on my blog that it had been, so far, my favorite book of the year. I had to mull that over a bit for the column, and after looking over my reading list this year so far, I have to say I still think it's my favorite book of the year so far . . .
"This is a romp through a novel of wild ideas, pocket universes in which D&D like environments exist for the titillation of their inhabitants being just the first of a series of escalating wild ideas, and Williams handles each oncoming wave with a steady hand and a quick pace. This is a fast, fun, and wild read."
Next we have Gary Wolfe in Locus. There's an introduction in which Gary, setting up his argument, discusses the "lycopene" and "ludenic" strains in SF, "ludenic" being from the Latin word for "game."
"For every Asimov who was studiously concerned about the social implications of robotics, there was a Kuttner who seemed to feel that robots were just fun to write about. For every carefully considered Clarkean novel about space exploration, there was another looneytune space opera. And the same thing seems to be happening with the current boy-band of SF ideas, the Vingean Singularity. There's no doubt it's a cool idea with all sorts of real-world implications, but - as Walter Jon Williams demonstrates in his new novel Implied Spaces - there's a playful aspect to it as well, and one that has more to do with the singularity as a function of story than about real-world technological tipping points. In other words, Williams is asking what good the singularity is purely as a literary device - what possibilities does it open up for the SF novelist, and how do these possibilities relate to earlier traditions? Williams's answer is interesting and often delightful, if not always fully worked out, and his angle of approach harks back to classic ludenic SF writers like Zelazny and Farmer, whose pocket universes borrowed as much from fantasy as SF, and who pretty much had to weave them from whole cloth in terms of any sort of SFnal rationale. Now, with Matrioshka arrays, quantum foam, portable wormholes, and downloadable mind backups, Williams can locate his various worlds in a firmly hard-SF context, though the worlds themselves are as playfully multi-genre as ever.
"The result is a novel that is, among other things, a galloping tour of various SF and fantasy subgenres. It begins as classic sword-and-sorcery, with the hero Aristide working his way across a hostile desert environment ac­companied by his magical sword Tecmessa, his talking cat Bitsy, and eventually a troll-led army of warriors. (Yes, you have to get past a talk­ing cat to get into this novel, and even though it turns out not really to be a cat, Williams should be held accountable.) . . .
"In a brief visit to the espionage genre, Aristide is dispatched on a James Bond-like mission to a tropical world called Hawaiki, where he sets himself up as a potential victim for whoever has been kidnapping tourists there. In fairly rapid succession thereafter, Williams takes Aristide through adventures drawn from horror (a zombie plague), romance (a brief ill-fated honeymoon with his lover), space opera ("'Do you mean... we're hurling hostile universes at each other?'"), military SF (featuring the Screaming Cyborg Division, which is even better than a talking cat), and, by the end, a bit of Stapledonian cosmic perspective, as we learn the true nature of Aristide's nemesis Vindex and the secrets of the origin of our universe. This is a lot to pack into a relatively short novel, and while there are some creaky joints between the major setpieces . . . and while some readers will find the abrupt scenery changes jarring, what holds it together is Williams's confident wit and his pure sense of celebration in driving us on a spin through all these genre-worlds. C.S. Lewis once rather presumptively wrote of David Lindsay that he was the first writer to discover what other plan­ets are really good for in fiction, and Williams may turn out to be among the first to ask what singularities are really good for simply in terms of playful big-scale SF storytelling. Maybe he's written the first Singularity Opera . . . "
Yeah, compare me to Zelazny and Farmer. See if I get tired of it.
And Singularity Opera? It occurs to me that in point of fact I actually give Aristide a couple arias.
I believe I will exit, singing . . .