Charles Stross is one of the best SF writers currently in the field. Hia books are deeply inventive and he has a gift
Personal Enthusiasm: It Was Okay
Charles Stross is one of the best SF writers currently in the field. Hia books are deeply inventive and he has a gift both for imagining potential futures and for bringing them to life. Glenn Reynolds recommended his new book, Rule 34. It sounded interesting but I wasn’t interested in paying new book prices to read it. I noticed that it was preceeded by Halting State. Since it was selling for quite a reasonable price, I decided to buy it.
I enjoyed this book. Stross envisions a new future where network connectivity and augmented reality are ubiquitous. Most people wear glasses that give them information about where they are (virtual maps overlaid on top of streets), who they’re seeing (names and brief bios floating alongside the people you’re looking at), or even information about nearby businesses. Gaming is big business, with massively multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPGs) running continuously on cell phones, available for play anytime.
And then a bank is robbed. But it’s a bank located in a game. A bank that should be completely unhackable. And the company running the bank seems strangely unwilling to assist the police in their investigation. The police, meanwhile, are baffled by the entire situation and the gaming scene. It’s up to a forensic accountant and a recently fired programmer to figure out what’s going on.
The book was recent in second person perspective, for 3 or 4 characters. It was nearly first person perspective but instead of the characters narrating their own viewpoint, Stross narrated it for them. (For example, “You stepped out into the street and hailed a passing taxi.”) That was odd but eventually, mostly, faded into the background.
The science and technology in the story was top notch, as you’d expect from an author who used to be a programmer. The characters were real and believable and each had their own voice and perspective.
It was a very good book. So why didn’t I enjoy it more? I think it was that the book wasn’t quite where my interests lay. I really enjoyed the world that Stross created but I’m just not that into gaming. Since the entire story revolved around gaming, I found it hard to really get into the spirit of the thing. For someone who does really enjoy gaming, this is an absolutely fantastic book.
In 1997, scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory developed a device that could generate a persistent, spherical force field of arbitrary
In 1997, scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory developed a device that could generate a persistent, spherical force field of arbitrary size and project it almost anywhere. The resulting “bobble” will completely cut off whatever is inside the field from the rest of the world. These scientists quickly act to use the bobble to encase nuclear weapons, military bases, cities, and governments. They declare themselves the Peace Authority and enforce peace by threatening to bobble anyone who rejects their authority.
The Peace War starts 51 years later, in 2048. The world has been at peace for as long as most people can remember. Not everyone is happy with the Peace Authority’s limitations on technology and freedom. Small bands of Tinkers have been clandestinely developing new technologies, in an attempt to overcome the Peace. And the original inventor of the Bobbler is still alive, a Tinker himself, and working hard to defeat the scientists who took his invention and used it to enslave the world.
Vernor Vinge does exactly what a good SF author should do: he poses a new technology and examines how it might change the world, for good and bad. I liked his depictions of how American society would change after the last year and enforced peace. I liked his depictions of how technology would progress in the face of severe restrictions against innovation. And I liked his depictions of how an insurrection might work when facing an enemy that not only had superior firepower but also had the ability to completely take pieces off of the map.
This was a very imaginative book and a great example of what “hard science fiction” should be. I highly recommend it.
Take one jaded, burn-out mercenary. Jon Moore. Give him an AI-enhanced Predator-Class Assault Vehicle. Lobo. One desparate to live a quiet life, in an
Take one jaded, burn-out mercenary. Jon Moore. Give him an AI-enhanced Predator-Class Assault Vehicle. Lobo. One desparate to live a quiet life, in an out of the way spot. The other itching to leave the quiet, out of the way spot and get back into action. Mix in some corporations eager to gain an edge and some corporate officials willing to lie and cheat to gain an edge. The end result is an angry mercenary with a lot of weaponry and a burning desire to both gain revenge and set things right.
All of that by itself would make a decent military novel. What makes this novel really stand out, and what makes it a great SF novel, is Mark L. Van Name’s use of nanotechnology and biotechnology. Jon Moore is loaded with nanotechnology that he can use to break in, break down, or confuse. Van Name, knowingly or not, keeps Sanderson’s Second Law in mind. The nanotech doesn’t make Moore invincible or omnipotent. It merely gives him a different set of tools. He still has to use his ingenuity to survive and win.
Moore also uses various bioengineered animals to achieve his goals. As with the nanotech, these animals are impressive for what they can do as well as what they can’t do. It’s a close look at another technology that’s currently beyond our grasp but close enough to be convincingly portrayed.
This book was very well written and Van Name revealed some impressive worldbuilding skills. I especially liked the planet name of “Pinkelplonker” (named by the 5-year old son of the captain that discovered the planet) and the jump system used to travel between worlds. I very much look forward to reading the rest of the novels in the series.
I've probably read this book 4 or 5 times over a 15 year period. I like it as much now as I did when I first read it. I can unreservedly recommend it.I've probably read this book 4 or 5 times over a 15 year period. I like it as much now as I did when I first read it. I can unreservedly recommend it.
The title is taken from a quote by Friedrich Schiller: "Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens." ("Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.") The novel is divided into three sections: "Against Stupidity", "The gods themselves", "Contend in Vain?". Asimov features completely different characters in each of the three sections. The story revolves around parallel universes and the different physical laws that affect each universe. The physics of our universe and the para universe are absolutely integral to the story.
Specifically, the strong nuclear force is weaker in our universe than it is in the parallel universe. This has all kinds of interesting effects. The para-suns are smaller and cooler than our own. Because the strong nuclear force is stronger there than it is here, it's possible for matter to stick together even as the atoms are farther apart. This, in turn, means that life there is different. Life forms can change their solidity at will, even thinning out to an amorphous gas without actually losing physical cohesion.
Asimov uses these physical differences in the parallel universe to comment on society and sex in our own universe. The para universe has many interesting parallels to our own society, even as the story stays true to the physical laws of the para universe.
As you'd might expect, the novel also deals with stupidity and pride in its various manifestations in varying people. I liked the portrayals of each of the main characters and their motivations. The characters' attitudes drive the story. They act according to their own motivations as they each grapple with the physical laws and the way that the physical laws vary between universes. ...more
I wanted to portray contemporary biological science as it is actually done: with sophisticated equipment, as part of an international conversation, with career-impacting mistakes and triumphant corrections. Too often, the “science” in SF is of the cloning-in-a-basement-by-a-mad-scientist type, or else gibberish hand-waving (“If we hook up the actofrabble cycle to the Hartford drive, we can create galaxy-spanning life insurance!”). I have enormous respect for science and scientists (all right, I’m a science groupie) and I wanted to show biological discoveries being made under pressure, with the inevitable competition as well as the teamwork, as realistically as I could.
I don’t feel like I saw that in this story. The science seemed real enough. (I don’t have nearly enough knowledge to speak confidently on the subject.) But I don’t feel like I saw any career-impacting mistakes or triumphant corrections.
The main viewpoint character didn’t really do any science in the story. It opens after she’s already published her groundbreaking paper. Everything else she does, throughout the story, is described as the type of thing that a lab assistant could do. As a result, I didn’t see “biological discoveries being made under pressure”, either with teamwork or competition.
The overall story also seemed flat, like pieces were missing. Everything was painted in with a brush that was just that much too light. We needed more more detail than we got. The story worked fine as a pitch for a longer novel, but didn’t work all that well as it is....more
I like hard science fiction, but I don’t like it for the stories. Most of the hard SF stories that I’ve read are a little bit thin in the plot departmI like hard science fiction, but I don’t like it for the stories. Most of the hard SF stories that I’ve read are a little bit thin in the plot department. Mostly I don’t care, because I’m not reading them for the plot or the characters. I’m reading them for the ideas. It’s a more enjoyable way to learn about science than actually reading journal articles.
This story isn’t an exception to that generality. There wasn’t a lot of plot and the characters weren’t very deep. But the science was interesting. It had a lot of elements that I enjoy. There’s a company called “Bootstrap” that exists to, well, bootstrap humanity into space, mining the incredible wealth in the asteroids.
Bootstrap uses cheap, disposable rockets and its initial flight is piloted by an intelligent squid. The flight is to an asteroid called Cruithne, which appears to orbit the earth in a very odd pattern. The launch date is sparked due to the Carter catastrophe.
The characters also use something called a Feynman radio, to pick up signals from the future. As things progress, we see a vision of a possible far, far future where humanity’s distant descendants mine the stars themselves, and blackholes, for energy. The characters also witness a succession of universes, showing that our universe is but one of an evolutionary tree, with universes evolving from each other. It turns out that blackholes could be the means by which daughter universes are spawned.
All of these science elements are either real or quite plausible and Baxter gives a list of references, at the end of the book. Don’t read this for the plot, but do read it for the ideas and the exploration of what could, quite possibly, be....more