Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Coyote points me to a great map of the US over at Strange Maps, which highlights counties based on what the plurality denomination of the residents is. Fascinating...

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Book Review: The Golden Age Trilogy, by John C. Wright

The Golden Age Trilogy (consisting of The Golden Age, The Phoenix Exultant, and The Golden Transcendence) is certainly one of the better series I've dipped into lately, and certainly the best since I discovered Charles Stross over the summer. In fact, these three books read like the love-child of Stross's Glasshouse and Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead (with maybe a tinge of Vinge's Rainbows End). Which, knowing my literary tastes, meant I loved every minute of it!

The story, set in a universe where man has achieved effective immortality through mind-recording and -copying technology, revolves around Phaethon, a man whose drive to achieve "deeds of renown without peer" has shaken the Golden Oecumene to its core. He has been cast down as his namesake before him, his memory tampered with and much of his past closed to him - including everything related to the dream that brought such punishment upon him. Now he needs to figure out what dream could be so dangerous as to be taken from him, and a way to achieve that dream in spite of his opposition.

Without giving away too much of the story, the ability to redact one's memories (legally) or others' (illegally) coupled with the ubiquity of telepresenting oneself (through presumably corruptible computer systems), mean that when one seeks truth, there are well-nigh infinite layers that must be peeled back to get to reality. The reader is kept in a high state of suspense until the very end, never knowing if we've finally reached reality, or if it's half-truths all the way down.

This is, as the subtitle of the first book suggests, a Romance of the Far Future. He drops the typical nihilistic cyberpunk tone for a vision of bold dreams and an exploration of Big Ideas. Phaethon, along with his virtues and his flaws, is larger than life in a way that only a truly Romantic character can be. Books like these are the reason I read sci-fi.

The reader should be warned that there is a decent bit of philosophizing involved later in the story that, while integral to the tale (not shoehorned in), may be off-putting to some readers. But don't worry, there's nothing approaching a 60-page Galt radio speech.

An excellent read - that absolutely ruined my productivity for the last few days.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A great mocking of the state of the Presidential primaries. Here's a snippet:

On the Democratic side of things, Obama isn't such a bad guy, if we can get him to renounce terrorism and stop-fathering crack babies, which you didn't hear from the Hillary camp. Clinton, meanwhile, is being perhaps a little too feminine on the campaign trail, what with the cleavage and the crying, though his wife remains the shrill, cast-iron harpy we've all come to loathe and fear. John Edwards is dragging his poor sick wife across the country in a quest to improve health care. He stands on principle against any hedge fund of which he's not a partner. The rest of the Democratic field is a collection of sissies, malcontents, and nutjobs.

On the Republican side, meanwhile, Giuliani is a polygamist. No wait, that's McCain. Sorry, I meant Fred Thompson. Mitt Romney? No, he's a hard-working, family-oriented husband of one wife who stands for everything that made America great, except that he's in a Satanic cult. The one-time darling of the Libertarians, Ron Paul, used to own slaves. Mike Huckabee, meanwhile, seems to drive Peggy Noonan apoplectic, which is reason enough to recommend him. Someone just needs to stop him from channeling Herbert Hoover. The rest of the Republican field is a collection of conspiracy theorists, isolationists, and psychopaths.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

This guy is my new hero of the day. He's been hauled in front of the Canadian HRC (claiming it is what the acronym actually stands for is to make a mockery of human rights, so I'll just give the acronym) for printing the Mohammad cartoons in Canada in 2006. During his interrogation with a government flunky, he proceeds to essentially tell them where to stick their inquiry into repressing his speech. It made my heart go all warm and fuzzy for a moment, particularly his response to the question "What was your intent... with the article":

He explicitly denies that the government can have any legitimate interest in this, which is precisely the right approach to take. To give a straight answer to the question is to concede its legitimacy, which is precisely what we should be denying. His answer: "The only thing I have to say to the government about why I published it is because it's my bloody right to do so. It's my right to do so for unreasonable intentions, and it's my right to do so for extremely unreasonable purposes."

Well done, sir.

Book Review: Farnham's Freehold

I just finished Farnham's Freehold, by Robert A. Heinlein. As is usually the case with Heinlein, I thought that:
  1. The sexual morality displayed in the story is a bit sketchy
  2. The pacing is such that you can't make yourself put it down (Even if you have class the next morning and you'll be up until 2 AM. Um... oops.)
  3. You are left wanting more
My biggest complaint is 3. I finished the novel and felt that the story could have been - no, should have been - much bigger. There was so much left unexplored, and it was frustrating for me to be restricted to such a narrow window into this story-universe. Heinlein's story-telling virtuosity can only carry it so far, and then I discovered that I felt like I was being rushed through this world as one would be rushed through a house tour if the owners didn't wish you to discover that the paint in the corners was peeling and the cabinetry needs replacing. It was well worth a read, but I don't know if, in retrospect, that 4 hours of entertainment was worth the $6.99 I paid. A good library read (if you like Sci-Fi), but probably not a worthwhile purchase.

As an intro to Heinlein, I would recommend one hit Starship Troopers, Have Spacesuit, Will Travel or Citizen of the Galaxy first.

Also, the cover is infuriating in retrospect. It ruins the ending - though, like Citizen of the Galaxy, that is not to say that the ending is particularly satisfying.

As is my wont, I've been watching a lot of playoff football this weekend. This prompts two thoughts from me:

1) You'd think that by now the major sports networks would have learned never to zoom in on a player's/coach's face following a controversial play. I just saw a great shot of Giants coach Tom Coughlin screaming "He grabbed his f***ing facemask!" at the officials. There was no sound, but anyone with two eyes and three brain cells could read his lips.

2) San Diego has suddenly become one of the grittiest teams in football. They just won the best game of the playoffs thus far, beating Indianapolis despite missing their starting running back (who happens to hold the rushing title) for most of the game, and their starting quarterback for most of the second half. I'm still a bit stunned, particularly following their weak performances against the Titans.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

From the hilarious truer-than-reality files:
Sept. 12: After the New York Jets report him for violating the league mandate against taping defensive signals, New England coach Bill Belichick says that he's put the entire episode behind him and is focused on the Patriots' next game when he will demonstrate the firepower of his fully armed and operational battle station on the planet of Endor.

Oct. 21: Despite a six-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter against Washington, Bill Belichick keeps his starters in the game, then cripples coach Joe Gibbs with force lightning and seals him in carbonite for transport back to Tatooine.

Nov. 18: In a battle of unbeatens, the Colts blow a 10-point fourth quarter lead and lose to the Patriots when Belichick's deflector shield, sadly, proves to be quite operational.

And the sad (to me):
Aug. 1: Minnesota trades Kevin Garnett, Randy Moss, Johan Santana, Adrian Peterson, Marian Gaborik, Tom Lehman, Garrison Keillor, the Coen brothers, Al Franken, Mary Tyler Moore, Charlie Brown, Betty Crocker, Paul Bunyan and the Pillsbury Doughboy to Boston.