Friday, December 9, 2016

Review: The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

It's hot news that "Hamilton" creator Lin-Manuel Miranda will be working with Patrick Rothfuss to film the Kingkiller Chronicles. Last year, I purchased Rothfuss's critically acclaimed novella, "The Slow Regard of Silent Things," but then noted that he recommended reading at least some of the Kingkiller Chronicles as an introduction to the world. I read the first volume of Patrick Rothfuss's trilogy (“The Name of the Wind”), so I’ve “done my homework.”


“The Name of the Wind” was enjoyable, similar to epic fantasy series by Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, and Stephen R. Donaldson, so if you’re a fan, I think you'll like it. But, as Rothfuss warns, “The Slow Regard of Silent Things” is quite different. In my opinion, different is better.

“Regard” stars Auri, a fairly minor character from “Wind.” She is an ex-student at the University who has obviously experienced some sort of psychic break during her magical studies that has caused her to become insane. She is living alone in the bowels of the city, avoiding people and slowly starving. She prepares for a visitor she expects in seven days. We worry that she won’t survive the whole week, but in spite of her OCD foot- and hand-washing and other bizarre behavior, she knows the secret names of things, so she wields considerable power. It turns out that the visitor is Kvothe, who has stumbled across her lair while finding a secluded place to practice his lute. They become fast friends.

Auri obviously loves Kvothe, and we’ll have to wait to see if he can help her regain herself.

Rothfuss dedicated the novella to “all the slightly broken people out there.” I don’t *feel* broken, but, come to think of it, I think we can all identify with Auri.

The ebook features beautiful art by Nathan Taylor. His illustrations of the dark crevices and tunnels beneath the city of Tarbean illuminate the story almost as much as Rothfuss’ prose.

A nice bit of music to read this by is “Lock All the Doors” by Noel Gallagher.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

So sorry for you

I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry
I also mirror this apology
This idealogy of sorry
In part of the liberal theology that's leading us to hari-kari
It's like a mythology, almost
Like a malingering ghost
As we slowly decompose
Writing in the grave of the polls
Cryin' for Senator Wellstone and then proceeding to moan
At our own supposed sabotage of the elections at home
"oh somebody phone home!
The American people have spoken!"
Now is that certain?
Maybe those nice Midwestern folks were just jokin'
In any case there's no use in dopin' chokin' mopin' and sobbin'
Come on you disheartenin' dobbins
Sayin' sorry is my problem

"Sari" by Nellie McKay

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Review of Uprooted by Naomi Novik

This year's Nebula winner, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, is a tour de force of fantasy world building. Agnieszka lives in a magical, medieval version of a valley between Poland and Russia. At first the story seems like standard sword and sorcery fare, when we learn "the Dragon" will be coming for one of the village girls. All girls born in October know they may be the one sacrified.

But we are immediately hooked when we learn the Dragon is not a fire-breathing beast but a wizard who trains a girl every 10 years in tribute for his protection from the evil Wood bordering their valley.

Much to her surprise, the sloppy Nieshka is chosen to go to the Dragon's tower instead of her beautiful friend Kasia. It turns out she has a knack for magic, if only to do foolish things like find fresh berries in winter in the Wood. She is always covered in dirt no matter how careful she is, and she becomes a poor maid and apprentice of the meticulous and disdainful Dragon. Her roots in the valley seem too strong for her to rise above.

We see the foreshadowing that Agnieszka will become a wizard herself like the famous witch Jaga and fight the evil of the Wood. When the Wood claims her friend Kasia, Agnieszka impetuously retrieves her from imprisonment within a giant tree. The Dragon helps her remove any taint of Wood-sickness from Kasia, but it is customary to execute all who have fallen victim to the Wood.

Holding Kasia hostage, the prince of Polya demands that Agnieszka save his mother the Queen, who was lured into the Wood 20 years earlier by an agent of Rosya. Agnieszka and the Dragon find the Queen, and she appears free of evil. But as we've been told, no one goes into the Wood and comes out again, at least not whole and themselves.

Some battle scenes do become tedious as soldiers fighting against the Queen and the Wood are sliced, hacked, beheaded, speared, gored, and dismembered.

The reason for the Wood's corruption and anger is revealed as we follow Agnieszka, Kasia, and the Dragon in their dreadful battle to save humanity from the encroaching Wood.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Review of Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson’s 2015 novel, Seveneves, concerns an issue that will someday affect us all: the end of the world as we know it. Divided into three parts, it begins with the destruction of the moon by an unknown “Agent,” followed by Humanity’s realization that the moon will soon come down in a “Hard Rain,” obliterating all life on Earth. A desperate undertaking to launch as many people up to the International Space Station as possible begins.

Stephenson’s descriptions are fascinating, and we root for the characters, including astronaut Dinah MacQuarie and her father Rufus, a miner who remains on Earth. Stephenson fans will recognize these descendants from his other historical sagas. After a hair-raising struggle punctuated with many disasters, only seven female humans manage to make it to a haven safe from the falling moon’s debris.

Where it seems to go off the rails is Part 3, a full novel in itself. Verbose detailed descriptions try to catch us up on 5,000 years of history since the Hard Rain. We lose the connection we developed with the characters in Parts 1 and 2, and their descendants seem to be blanks. Human civilization now consists of 3 billion humans orbiting Earth, and the task to reseed and reclaim the planet is underway. The seven female survivors (“Eves”) have bred seven races of humans.

I felt that use of the term “race” does a serious disservice to the story. Race is an invention of the 17th Century. (Reflect that in 15th Century Florence, the city-state was ruled by a black member of the Medici family. Few cared a whit about his skin color.)

The genetic engineering of the children of the original seven Eves in order to repopulate the world is interesting, of course, but the eventual development of seven different “races” sounds like a step backwards. The idea was for the women to have viable offspring, right? This is the definition of species, not race. The Human species can interbreed. Stephenson seems to get around this a bit with the concept of “epigenetics." But, even if some offspring are able to express their genetic coding differently, that still doesn’t make them a separate species. Stephenson would have done better to have coined a new term instead of race. Older terms such as “nation” and "breed" no longer serve: Israeli Jews and Arabs are different nations, but they are still humans.

There seems to be a tendency for prolific SF writers to overripen, i.e., to trend ever rightward politically. As I matured I eventually had to stop taking everything seriously I read by Heinlein and Simmons and. . . (sigh). They started out rebelliously creative, but evolved into mining political tropes (or is it tripes?) and recent science news. (For example, was it necessary to include the recent discovery of Neanderthal DNA into one of Stephenson’s new “races”? David Brin jumped around similarly in “Existence,” instead of exploring one or two big ideas.)

Maybe I am being too harsh. But I view PD James’s 1992 novel, “The Children of Men” as an example of what I mean about exploring a single big idea. The plot is simple: Humanity has become infertile, and the last child has died.  Somehow one woman manages to become pregnant, and if we can protect her, she is our salvation. It’s a masterpiece.

Unfortunately, we don’t suffer the same uncertainty with Seveneves. We always knew that Rufus and the Diggers would survive the Hard Rain.


Friday, September 23, 2016

"Only a Signal Shown" by L. E. Buis - review

L. E. Buis's "Only a Signal Shown" is an arresting little tale that poses a provocative "what-if" situation. A colony ship on its centuries-long journey to Alpha Centauri awakens the "sleeping" captain to report an unexpected occurrence.

An alien ship has been detected that will virtually cross the path of the colony ship.

Two other shipmates have already been awakened: the security chief and the cultural expert. They disagree on whether to attack the alien presence or to greet it as a First Contact.

In some ways, there is little physical danger in greeting the aliens, because the "cargo" aboard the colony ship is really only digitally stored personalities. However, the key directive of the mission is to ensure that the cargo arrives safely at its destination. The captain is still debating what to do, when the decision is abruptly taken out of his hands.

Recommended.

"Only a Signal Shown" appears in the 12 September 2016 issue of Perihelion Online Science Fiction Magazine. Check it out at http://www.perihelionsf.com/1609/fiction_8.htm

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Keystone Chronicles - Editor's Note

-->           We're always amazed at how our authors take the theme we offer as a writing prompt and run with it. Third Flatiron received some unusually good writing for the Fall/Winter issue, and that's saying a lot. Below is the Editor's Note for the issue:

The prompt: We noted that a keystone is a central stone at the summit of an arch locking the whole together. It's something on which other things depend for support, the heart or core of something, the crux, or central principle. Welcome to Keystone Chronicles. This anthology features 19 stories, nearly a double issue, for this fall/winter. It's probably the most eclectic spec fic collection we've ever produced, even featuring a healthy dose of geological science.
Bursting out of the gate first is our lead story, "Our Problem Child: Langerfeld the Moon," by Marilyn K. Martin, who makes us appreciate how much we would miss that shiny silver disk in the sky if something ill were to befall it.
The idea of keystone species has become important as humans try to understand and preserve the natural environment. The Juno mission to Jupiter is giving us a closer glimpse of our solar system's gas giant. In "Hunt, Unrelenting," Sierra July writes an exciting, surrealistic story about what the keystone species of that planet might be.
Back on Earth, bees are a recognized keystone species, of course. But in the hands of author Judith Field, we're treated to an especially entertaining tale when magicians Pat and Mark form an alliance with our fuzzy friends to battle the UK version of Bigfoot.
Edward Palumbo channels Fredric Brown in his speculative story, "Desol 8," about an intergalactic travel reporter touring a new resort. We find we're not sure how we feel when that planet's key features are revealed.
Sometimes it's a matter of wanting something badly enough. But things get weird when slipstream/horror master A. P. Sessler's young lovers wish they'll never reach the end of "The White Picket Fence." Then it's a matter of perspective. Another excellently told tale, "Coding Haven" by Brandon Crilly, is the story of a coder who is key to saving the planet via virtual reality, but is not sure she can save herself.
Beware the end of the world? That old saw about there being a kook in every subway car gets a workout when expanded to an interstellar setting. John Marr really puts it out there in "Every Planet Has One." Bascomb James offers his ironic tale, "TANSTAAFL." Fans of Robert Heinlein might recognize the acronym, which stands for "there ain't no such thing as a free lunch."
We love time travel stories but can't abide anachronisms. Neither can Desmond Warzel, who pokes holes in the fun in "You Can Not Have a Meaningful Campaign If Strict Time Records Are Not Kept."
Space opera and movie lovers are sure to find something to their liking in John M. Campbell's thriller, "Keystone Mine," set in the Asteroid Belt.
Three authors give differing theories about how human civilization may have been given a boost by outside forces. UK writer Maureen Bowden shows how the Three Fates might have played a key role in raising up primitive humans in her tale, "Splinters." But others may beg to differ, as in Argentinian writer Gustavo Bondoni's fairy tale, "Racial Memory." And Bear Kosik's "See You on Hel," follows an overworked, underfunded uranologist who discovers extragalactic creatures have been helping humanity for millennia.
"To Their Wondering Eyes" by Sharon Diane King gives us a shot of steampunk fantasy, as stereographs spring to life and turn things inside out.
We always enjoy switching things up by adding a bit of mythology and spirituality to the mix. In "How Far Away the Stars," Sri Lankan writer Sam Muller introduces us to a young knight determined to kill a dragon as the key to his reputation. (The dragon offers an alternative.) And Zerrin Ogtur presents us with a lovely parable of people gradually discovering their prophet to be the key to their uplift.
We close as usual with our "Grins and Gurgles" section, with flash humor pieces by Larry Lefkowitz ("Rejection"), Art Lasky ("I Should've Known Better"), and Damian Sheridan ("Remembrance of Saint Urho"). I'm still chuckling.
We hope you'll enjoy these chronicles, told by an international group of master storytellers.

Note: Third Flatiron will open for submissions soon for its 2017 lineup. Watch us at www.thirdflatiron.com.



Thursday, June 30, 2016

Saving the World with Electricity?

Many of us have pretty much given up hope of heading off climate change before we go off the cliff, now predicted to occur around 2050.

We've heard that solutions such as wind and solar energy, though plentiful, aren't competitive in price, and they're intermittent. The sun doesn't shine at night, after all.

But what if we had a way to transport energy where it's needed much more cheaply without needing extra storage? And what if that system both ameliorated climate change and made our energy grid more secure against threats such as terrorism, electromagnetic pulses (EMPs), and solar flares?

At the Boulder-Denver annual meeting of the American MeteorologicalSociety (AMS) this week, we had the privilege of hearing a keynote talk by Alexander ("Sandy") MacDonald, former head of the NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory and Past President of the American Meteorological Society. MacDonald presented the exciting idea that the U.S. could build an underground electical superhighway system for renewable energy, which he compared to Eisenhower's initiative to build the Interstate Highway system.

MacDonald noted that the current electrical grid is vulnerable to many problems, and even a single transformer can take months to replace. In case of massive failure, adequate supplies of food and water could be disrupted, overwhelming police and disaster recovery efforts.

MacDonald had the idea that working over a large region (such as the whole continental U.S.) would simplify the solution, because it would smooth out the variability of the wind and sunshine. Working with a supercomputer simulation model, he and his colleagues designed an energy distribution grid that would satisfy needs for electrical energy throughout the country. Some use of natural gas would continue for occasional backup.

The system would use high-voltage direct current (HVDC) and could be buried underground and shielded to make it less vulnerable to electromagnetic and solar pulses.

The Pros

Why is this idea so exciting? It's because it seems so much more do-able than many climate geo-engineering solutions we've heard about, such as injecting sulfur in the stratosphere, orbiting big mirrors, or increasing cloudiness and albedo. Here are the pros I see:

o The Interstates were built without disruption of the roads already in place. The same could be done with electricity.

o If completed by 2030, carbon emissions from power generation could be reduced greatly once the system was fully functional. If the rest of the world, such as Asia and Europe, built their own systems, the climate problem could be solved.

o Rather than using taxpayer funds, the system could be built by private contractors, as was done for the recent upgrade of the Boulder turnpike. Multiple contractors worked on sections of the highway simultaneously, speeding up completion. MacDonald estimates 8 million jobs could be created in the U.S.

o The technology for the electrical pipeline already exists, and cable could be buried alongside many rights-of-way, such as railroads.

o The U.S. electrical system would be much less susceptible to power disruptions.

More information

MacDonald's work has been published in the peer-reviewed Nature Climate Change,
and he wrote a guest commentary of his results in the June
2 Washington Post.

Photo: Energy Corridor from Niagara Falls, near Buffalo Airport, NY, by Eric Chaffee. commons.wikimedia.org.