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The Mirror (Review) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Sunday, 22 January 2017 00:00

ften people give you books to read that meant something to them but are mush to you. But The Mirror, loaned to me by a work friend, knocked me back in my seat. It delivers. And I can see why this lady tracked this one down (copyright 1978) and bought it.

So Shay is a modern (i.e. 1978) girl coming up at the end of the free-love era, at the edge of matrimony to a man she's cool to, a casual consideration towards a lifetime commitment. And while trying on her granny's wedding dress and looking into that creepy family mirror (brought in through dark and sinister circumstances from the Orient) she happens to meet the eyes of her stroke-bound grandmother and

Oh oh.

Yes, the two switch. Shay finds herself back in the early 1900s in her grandmother's young body, about to be shoved into a horrible arranged marriage to a stern miner. While enduring and experiencing this strange world, she continues to hold to some forlorn hope that somehow she can reverse this process and reclaim her life. But eventually she (and the reader) realize she's not going back. She's stuck, and will live a history already predetermined, one she knows through her mother's stories (which she paid scant attention to while she was so pretty and so free) and one she seems unable to change. In this, she becomes a bit of a witch, knowing when to pull the family's monies out of the depression-bound banks before the hit, but unable to prevent the deaths that will come (including that stroke she knows she will suffer). In this, it is a very melancholy (yet intriguing) tale.

And then, the next part. We jump forward to find grandmother Brandy in Shay's body, surrounded by a devil world of free love, casual vulgarity and unimaginable technology. We see her recognize places from the life she once lived (and which we experienced as Shay), the changes, her being out of place. It's a wonderful story, this pair where each loses their selves in too much freedom or not enough, when being time-torn results in a full lost of friends and family. I was really stunned with this one, and sad when it concluded.

A point I must admit. I've written my own castaway-in-time tale (you can buy it below) but I don't think I approached it was quite the level of observation that Ms Millhiser did. The casual recognitions she makes (that in-the-past Shay discovers Brandy's legs and armpits are unshaven, and that she doesn't know how to deal with her own period, nor how to prevent a pregnancy) felt bluntly realistic. I just had to nod - the past is not a sound stage where everyone dresses funny and one knows one will get back once Doc shows up with the Delorean. The past is what it is - people different from us, a world different from ours, a total isolation in the midst of these othertime masses.

A fantastic book. Check your library or online for this one. Worth the search.


Last Updated on Sunday, 22 January 2017 04:14
Algorithms to Live By (Review) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Sunday, 15 January 2017 00:00

h, yes, my misspent youth. There was some game on the Atari that my best friend and I used to play, a car driving game where you drove as fast as you could, avoiding all the slower traffic, the road obstacles, all that. And what made this "cool" (that is a very time-relevant statement, given the computer games of today) was that places between cities in the game looked different. And the interesting thing here - you tried to hit all the cities across the country in the shortest possible time. So my friend and I would play and play, trying to figure out what route (with their miles) was best.

Since he was in college at the time (I was already in the real world) I asked him to ask his professors the question - based on the miles between the cities, what was the best route?

Like, how hard could it be?

It turns out very hard. I was surprised to know that there wasn't just a program you could crank this through or an algorithm you could rely on. Nobody had really "solved" it. We never did find out our shortest possible route. But Algorithms to Live By could have helped.

Supposedly the concept of this book was to take known tricks computers use (such as routing packets, fetching data and sorting said) and apply it to the real world. So on the first part, the book is very interesting - listing all the troubles scientists have faced as data moved faster and faster. There were a number of things I took for granted (just as I took for granted the problem of shortest route (the Traveling Salesman problem)). Some of the solutions were interesting, as well as the statistics behind them. But keep that in mind - this is a programming/science/statistics book - even with the authors making an effort to keep it light and entertaining, it's still a slog to get through it.

The second point - the application to real life - this is where it gets a little dodgy. Sure, there are algorithms there that might help, for what are algorithms other than the ability to break down a problem into efficient chunks to solve. And yes, sometimes life can be like that, but sometimes it isn't. Shortest route isn't always best route. And some of the scenarios are a little strained. Most of the time, you will simply have to look at a situation, put into the mix all you know (or believe) and make your best guess. "Solving" a problem isn't always an outcome - the best you can usually hope for is to survive the consequences of a wrong choice.

But it is a good book. I liked it for the same reason I enjoyed a Wired article I'd read about trans-oceanic cables - I learned so much about an field I knew nothing about. Self-help is all fine and good, but facts are what we make most of our decisions on, and this book provides plenty of those. It's a good read, and I appreciate my friend sending it my way for my birthday.


p.s. Interesting thing - when I went to my site to get the address to link in my bookstore, the computer gave me an error - coudn't find the address "this time". I thought about what I'd read in this book and what that likley meant, that it tried and tried and for whatever reason, eventually gave up after the route it had chosen failed. of course, when I clicked again, either a new route had opened or the old route had resumed. But interesting....

Last Updated on Monday, 02 January 2017 14:00
The End (Review) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Sunday, 08 January 2017 00:00

urassic Publishing House is gone. I've talked about them at length HERE, of my relationship with them and all the fine novels I've read that they produced. And with their downfall comes The End, a collection of their best short stories.

It's a wonderful collection (what I've read so far, and I will be reviewing the stories as I proceed through them like chocolates in a box, one or two now and again, just making them last). I'll mention that the book itself is physically a superb effort, leather bound (or simulated such - I'm too uneducated to know the difference) but it looks nice. Comes in its own box-sleeve, too. And inside, it is stamped (like all the Jurassic short runs are stamped) with a personalized number. I've got number 49 out of 150, so there you go. And there are author signatures too, so this one's top shelf.

So, the stories. As I mentioned, more to come, but what I've read so far were wondrous!

We'll Always Be Here - a super scifi about two little girls, shadowy Pluto and darling Sharon, two "orphans" (you gotta read it to understand the quotes) stuck on a convent-asteroid in a wobbly solar orbit, the sole survivors of an onboard plague that wiped out everyone but themselves and a couple of freeze-brained Canadian girls. Earth is in ruins, there are only a small collective of survivors, but they've got a strange and desperate request to make of the girls.

Three Memories of Death - With my writing of Wenamon, I learned a lot about ancient Egypt. And this one was beautifully written, balanced and perfect. It is the story of the man who eventually becomes the head of the temple in Thebes, responsible for the perfection of mummification and a guarantee to the afterlife, and his ruler, the great lord Ramses, who he will eventually prepare. Just a perfect story, one that will haunt you.

Fealty to Apollo - A funny little alternative tale, one where NASA knows that PR is its most important mission. In this, they contact Hollywood for some actors to make that first moon landing, from a little known show by some Roddeberry guy.

    Shatner: This is one small step for a man, on giant leap for my career-

    Nimoy: I told them I should have gone first.

I'm not going to cover them all - there must be thirty to forty in their collection. But I'm going to note out the ones that really catch me over the next few weeks as I read this one in the background to all my other efforts.

Good luck on finding this one. Limited edition, I'm afraid!


Last Updated on Sunday, 08 January 2017 09:57
Raiders of the Universes (Review) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Sunday, 01 January 2017 00:00

h, the good old days. Everyone remembers cars being better, little towns being better, and life being better (actually, the cars were lead-sleds that would kill you at 35mph, the towns were superstitious collectives that people left as soon as they could, and life, overall, was shorter and (with exception to recent political events) stupider). But there you go.

In that light, we go back to the "golden age of science fiction" (via a 1932 edition of Astounding Tales) for Raiders of the Universes, a little short story. Taking place in the wondrous future of 3400 or so, the astronomer Phobar peeks through a telescope obsolete by our standards except for "Marcia's nullifier", which allows one to "see occurrences in the universe which had hitherto required the hundreds of years needed for light to cross the intervening space". When I first read that, I thought I'd have to get one of those for my own scope before realizing that it wouldn't make much of a difference for my viewing. Gimme something that cuts through clouds and I'd be happy.

Anyway, good Phobar spots a series of new suns blossoming in the direction of Hercules, in a straight line directed at Earth, a new one every twenty four hours. And here it comes.

Turns out it's some sort of rogue planet populated by intelligent creature of metal, each one hundred feet tall, who demand (through Phobar) that Earth mine critical ores and make them available, else it be destroyed. Phobar is transported aboard the ship to act as an ambassador, to carry back the creature's demands. To make its point, New York is destroyed. Poof.

Okay. Stop here.

First off, I hated these creatures. They should be so alien from us (metal based and older than, nearly and literally, dirt) that communication should be difficult. For them to gloat, to bark out "Puny Earthling" and all those old saws, is as out-of-date as a manual choke. Gloating assumes shared values of shame, humiliation and a sense of domination. Seems like an odd trait for aliens beyond, literally, time and space.

And why would aliens a hundred feet tall, with various tentacles and the like, control a massively sophisticated spaceship (or whatever it is - accelerating planetoid would be more like it) with a human-sized control panel with levers. Like, what, "Time to go forward!" Ratchetty-ratch. What? And yes, I know that in 1932 this seemed like high science but it sure felt dated now. Like maybe their controls should include a manual choke.

But worse - if you are going to gloat, don't explain to the human how mighty you are by showing how your simple control panel works, especially the lever that will shrink the space between all atoms to critical-mass distances, but only for those atoms from their original universe. And I thought there were irresponsible gun owners, but this?

Anyone see where this ends up?

And with the transport beam locked on Earth, he even got out alive.

What, did the aliens grow so bored of life and the simple pleasures of gloating at doomed races, they just set things up so they could all be killed? Death by astronomer?

Okay, so you've gotten my take on it. This one was so screwy (and my review so harsh) that I don't think anyone will rush out to read it. But if you do, it's on Gutenberg. Have fun with it.



Last Updated on Sunday, 01 January 2017 10:24

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