The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 4-12-15

Sunday Post

You still have a few hours left to enter my 4th Annual Blogo-Birthday Celebration Giveaway. I’m giving away four(4!) $10 gift cards or books, so that’s four chances to win. But time is running out!

The big piece of bookish news this week has been the continuing fracas over the nominee slate for this year’s Hugo Awards. If you are looking for balanced coverage of the mess, take a look at either George R.R. Martin’s Not a Blog entries or File 770’s posts. I am planning to attend WorldCon this year in Spokane, which means that yes, I was eligible to nominate. I’m glad that I did this year, even though very few of my nominations made it to the final ballot. I am definitely planning to vote. I think I’ve figured out what I’m going to do, but there are lots of thoughts still running around my head. This has been a big topic of discussion around our house this week. While it certainly makes the evening walks go faster, it is also an exhausting piece of chaos, and there are not going to be any winners at the end, possibly including whoever takes home the actual Hugo rockets. If anyone does.

I thought seriously about writing a blog post on this mess, but I have decided not to. What I wrote for my own amusement was cathartic but probably not helpful to anyone except me.

Besides, I believe that Robert A. Heinlein, who seems to be the patron saint of the Puppies, said it best in The Notebooks of Lazarus Long:

If you are part of a society that votes, then do so. There may be no candidates and no measures you want to vote for…but there are certain to be ones you want to vote against. In case of doubt, vote against. By this rule you will rarely go wrong. If this is too blind for your taste, consult some well-meaning fool (there is always one around) and ask his advice. Then vote the other way. This enables you to be a good citizen (if such is your wish) without spending the enormous amount of time on it that truly intelligent exercise of franchise requires.

In the meantime, here is what’s happening on Reading Reality…

blogo-birthday-april6Current Giveaways:

Four $10 gift cards or books in my 4th Annual Blogo-Birthday Celebration!

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the $10 bookish prize in the Fool for Books Giveaway Hop is Danielle S.
The winner of a paperback copy of Never Too Late by Robyn Carr is Natasha D.

doc by maria doria russellBlog Recap:

4th Annual Blogo-Birthday Celebration + Giveaway
B+ Review: Wildfire at Larch Creek by M.L. Buchman
B+ Review: The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons
C Review: Bite Me, Your Grace by Brooklyn Ann
A- Review: Doc by Mary Doria Russell
Stacking the Shelves (130)




bookseller by cynthia swansonComing Next Week:

The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg (blog tour review)
The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson (blog tour review)
One Bite Per Night by Brooklyn Ann (review)
BiblioTech by John Palfrey (review)
Ivory Ghosts by Caitlin O’Connell (blog tour review)

Transplanted Revolutionary Values

They always say that freedom isn’t free. Sometimes we forget that the United States of America was a grand experiment when it was first formed.  No country had ever tried to actually implement the novel idea of widespread democracy before, even on the somewhat limited basis upon which our Founding Fathers made their attempt in 1776. It was limited based on the standards we have now. I could not have voted. I am female, and that would have disqualified me. And gender was not the only restriction in the 1700’s. The Declaration of Independence was a start, not an end.

History doesn’t allow “do-overs”. Time marches on, and we all live with the results. But alternate history is the art of speculating about the “what-ifs”. What if history had marched down a different path? Alternately, no pun intended, what if something like the American Revolution happened on some other world? Science-fictionally speaking, of course.

Eric Flint’s 1632 series is one of the most fun alternate history series that I’ve run across. The first book in the series is 1632, but Flint kept going. Independence Day brought it to mind because the story is about transplanting middle-American values, virtues and gumption to an extremely unlikely time and place, and recreating the practical parts of the United States somewhere and somewhen they should never have been. In the opening of 1632, Grantville, West Virginia is in the middle of celebrating a wedding between the younger sister of the local president of the United Mine Workers of America and the son of one of the wealthiest steel families from Pittsburgh.  A lot of college friends and their families have come to this small and otherwise slowly dying town in West Virginia coal country, population 5,000 hardy souls, augmenting the mix of professionals and regular folks just enough to make things interesting when the disaster happens. Grantville and its environs get scooped out of the ground in  late 20th century America and deposited in Thuringia, in western Saxony, in 1632, in the middle of the Thirty Years’ War.

Why is this fun? Because the inhabitants don’t just sit on their hands and cry about what they’ve lost. They realize pretty quickly that they are in it for the long haul, and that the history in the books in the high school library they brought with them has been changed, forever. There is a major politcal fight about values. Will they be an exclusionary enclave, or will they openly expose American values, like democracy and freedom and religious tolerance, to the surrounding area, knowing that those ideas and values are somewhere between revolutionary and heretical in the 1600s? How much history will they manipulate? For a little while, they know who lives and who dies, and how to prevent it. What should they do? How much of an industrial revolution should they start, and how much can they maintain? The lessons in the “art of the possible” were fascinating.

Some Revolutions are born in fire. David Weber’s space opera series of the adventures of Honor Harrington has grown to contain some stories that are sidebars to Honor’s main story arc. Among the stories in what is referred to as the Honorverse is the story of the liberation of the slave planet Torch from the slave-masters corporation, Mesa. In Crown of Slaves, the opening of the story, incompetence on the part of one Star Empire’s ministers, plus an assassination of the person who was the voice of conscience of another, impatience on the part of a third, hyper-competent spying on the part of a fourth, and terrorism and kidnapping by the understandably radical freed slaves’ organization leads to the creation of Torch.  In Torch of Freedom, the second book, the newly-freed slaves must defend their freedom from their former masters and learn to become a government instead of a radical terrorist group. The second is sometimes more difficult than the first.

And last, but not least, Robert A. Heinlein’s Moon is a Harsh Mistress. This was the last of his four Hugo award winners for best novel. The concept is not unfamiliar. If man colonized the moon and then used it as a penal colony, what would happen? The science of why it would be a one-way, multigenerational trip is probably way off, but long-distance penal colonies have certainly been done before. Australia being the best known example, but Georgia was also a penal colony. And if the penal colony was a multigenerational one-way trip, so that a sentence condemned future generations to indentured servitude with no way out, what would the eventual result be? Revolution?

There are four main characters in Moon. Manny, a computer technician who discovers late one night that the computer he has been working on all these years has actually become self aware. Wyoming Knot, known as Wyoh, a young political agitator who has spent her entire life traveling from colony to drum up support for a revolution. The Professor, an elderly academic, recently committed to the Moon, who has realized that the Lunar economy/ecology is running on empty. And finally, Mike, the self-aware computer. Mike might be Data’s great-grandfather, or at least a great-uncle. Mike wants to save his friends, now that he knows what friendship is. He will save them no matter what it might cost him. And Mike, just like Data, can calculate the exact odds of success–or failure.

If anyone ever says, “TANSTAAFL” to you, and you wonder where it comes from, it’s from Moon. It’s an abbreviation for “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”. There wasn’t for Mike, and it’s still true.

Double deja vu

In the middle of the first chapter of Omnitopia Dawn by Diane Duane, I kept thinking “I’ve played this book”.  Not “I’ve read this book”, but “I’ve played this book”, as in there’s a game just like this.  And there is.  The beginning of the book is from the perspective of a player in an extremely immersive massively multiplayer online world that is so detailed that at first the reader doesn’t realize that the perspective is inside a game.  Then, he steps back into “real” life, and you realize he was playing his character, and this book is about the game.

Several years ago, I played a series of video games that mimicked both a massively multiplayer online world and the player’s online chat experience during the game as it invaded reality.  I really thought I was reading dot Hack, which was the game in question.  It would have made a pretty good novel.  But Omnitopia only started out the same as the game.

Omnitopia Dawn, dot Hack, and also, surprisingly, Fantasy in Death by J.D. Robb, all have an element in common, that of using video gaming worlds to affect the so-called “real” world.  But J.D. Robb uses the next step in virtual reality as a murder weapon.  In dot Hack, the theme is mind control.  But Omnitopia Dawn is much more deeply layered.  The company behind the game is intended as a jab at high tech companies with their own internal geek culture, like Apple, Google, and even Microsoft back in the day.

But in Omnitopia Dawn, the real world is going to be affected in real ways, not virtual ones.  Real competitors of the corporation behind Omnitopia plan to use the launch of the next upgrade to launch a very real attack on Omnitopia’s servers using very real viruses, denial of service attacks and other tools that read like natural progressions from today’s headlines.  And the intent behind these attacks is to steal very real money from the company, and if possible to drive Omnitopia out of business, so that its competitors win.

Under the fantasy layer, and the business layer, there is a science fiction layer.  Omnitopia’s server network is vast and its founder has programmed it with its own individual persona and artificial intelligence.  The new upgrade to the system has caused something unexpected to happen to that artificial intelligence.  It has, like so many systems before it, become self-aware.  And in the attack launched by Omnitopia’s enemies, it starts to defend itself.

The first self-aware machine I remember reading about was Mike in Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.  Not all of Heinlein’s adult works wear well because some of his attitudes about women (among other things) were very definitely of his time and not ours.  But I still remember the character of Mike very fondly.  Mike named himself for Mycroft Holmes.  But Mike was the computer that ran all the systems on the moon, and eventually accreted enough memory, inputs, data, whatever to become sentient.  Two things about Mike stuck with me.  His friend, Manny, teaching him about humor and jokes, the difference between funny once and funny always, and that Mike doesn’t live to see the revolution he brings about.

There was a long moment at the end of Omnitopia Dawn where I was afraid I was reading about Mike again.