Tag Archives: technology

In Defense of Well-Read Internet Trolls*

10 May

I learned something yesterday: If you’re going to write a blog about as contentious and controversial a topic as the characterization of classic characters in American fiction (and do it with alliteration), you’ve really got to grow a thick skin.  Everyone has the right to disagree.  And that is something I will defend unto my last keystroke.  I, Isabela Morales, the Scattering’s sole author, do so swear.

See what I did there?  I used my name.  I did that because I personally believe that if I’m ashamed to put my John Hancock to something I publish, then it isn’t really worth publishing.  But hey, we can’t expect everyone to follow that rule.

Come now, does this look like the face of a “brutish faux intellectual” to you?

Anonymity is a valuable and important part of our online experience.  Why then do we, as a culture, tend to despise, denigrate, deride, and disdain people who post more-than-moderately critical comments without revealing their names?  I am here to say that I believe every would-be Internet troll has the right to write unnecessarily aggressive things about academic blog posts without inspiring offense on the part of the author.  Which is why I want to post this not-at-all-spiteful public letter of apology for forcing my objectionable prose on last night’s anonymous commenter.  You see–

In spring 2009 I was taking a course on American humor and satire at my now-alma mater the University of Alabama.  Every week, our professor assigned us brief writing assignments—analyzing either a chapter or character from the book we were reading as a class.  The essays from those classes that I’ve posted on the Scattering have consistently been some of my most popular for years now (maybe because they’re possibly the only useful things I’ve published here), and if anyone can explain why my paper on Mark Twain and religious satire has been translated into Spanish more than it’s been read in English, that would be kind of cool to know.

In any case—the last book we discussed that semester was Catch-22, the bleakly funny (anti-)war novel by Joseph Heller.  The short essay I posted from class was my comparison of leading man Yossarian and his glum number two, Dunbar.  I flatter myself that I provided a few good pieces of evidence to support my claim that Dunbar is Yossarian’s foil; and of course, like a good little college student, I used in-line parenthetical citations for all my quotes (this was before the history department converted me to CMOS).

This all seems like a very long time ago to me, but how easily we forget that the Internet is eternal: once on Google, always on Google.  And it would seem that someone found my little essay today and didn’t find it useful at all.  In fact, he/she seems kind of pissed off that it exists.  I hope, with this letter, written as a public post for completely non-self-indulgent reasons, I can assuage some of Anonymous’s worries.

Ahem.

Dear Anonymous,

I just wanted to let you know how very appreciative I am that you took the time to peruse my “ancient” blog posts until you found one worthy, or perhaps unworthy, as you would have it, of comment—and this especially because reading my character analysis of Dunbar in Catch-22 so clearly caused you great mental agitation and psychic pain.

As an avid reader myself, how acutely do I know the distress that comes when one is thrown into collision with unpalatable prose!  Please know that I extend to you my greatest admiration and, indeed, perhaps even awe, for setting yourself at the vanguard of the Internet’s blog writing style soldiery!  I don’t think that anyone who read the remarks you left on my post of 17 March 2009 could possibly imagine you as anything other but a white knight of wordpress—charging down the RSS feeds of book reviewers with the same courage and conviction that the chevaliers of old (dare I say, of olde?) charged down the jousting lists.

But because I fear that the weight of public opinion might come down against someone who hands down breathtaking accusations and criticism under the name “Anonymous,” I have decided to publish your comments more broadly—for the sake of showing every one of my readers just how much I care what they think about my writing style.

Despite this article being ancient, the following bothers me and so i’ll comment here. I hope you have relaxed your prose by now, but I’m not going to put myself out verifying.

“second only to Yossarian as a character introduced in the book” – this is annoying. Stop trying to sound pretentious when you simply mean “the second character introduced in the book.”

It doesn’t work and is appalling. Had several complaints leading up to this point, but after this sentence I stopped reading.

That being said, it’s your prerogative to write as you will. You simply come off brutish in your faux intellectualism.

Cheers

Me being pretentious in front of a picture of UA’s founding librarian, my role model in all things, including 19th-century prose.

Anonymous, I completely understand why you wouldn’t want to put yourself out verifying whether or not I have relaxed my prose by reading any more recent posts, considering how dreadfully my writing style irks you.  In fact, I must now regretfully inform you that my prose, if anything, has only grown more contrived, affected, and overblown in the last two years.  And now that I will be entering a doctoral program in history next fall, I can only sigh and resign myself to the fact that I will doubtless be swept away by the currents of stilted academic prose by the time I’m through.

Alas!  Alack!  I should probably leave it at that, to spare you any more agony, but there’s just one thing–

I wonder how you found this post to begin with?  Were you searching for essays about Catch-22 online?  Because if that’s the case, I would trouble you just one more time to ask whether the actual substance of the essay had any bearing on your research.  I hate to think that my grandiloquent diction is getting in the way of my ideas.

Oh, and if I can keep your attention for another moment (and I only make this extended reply because your browser history certainly does not include the search “cliffnotes catch 22”), I’d like to say something about that particular line that you quoted:

Educated people like you and me have probably come across the literary technique of “parallelism” before—you know, constructing your writing in such a way that the grammar of one phrase, say, echoes an earlier sentence.  That’s what I was going for what I started my sentence with “Second only to Yossarian in alleged insanity, Dunbar…” and ended it with “… is also second only to Yossarian as a character introduced in the book.”

Clearly, I failed in that.  Oh well, we all try these things when we’re young, don’t we?

And last of all—hopefully I haven’t taken up too much more of your time or left the taste of poor diction in your mouth, giving you that fuzzy feeling on your tongue that comes when you go to sleep without brushing—I’d like to say a few words about your word choice.

You are indeed a master wit!  I don’t think I’d ever be clever enough to call a complete stranger “pretentious” while myself using terms like brutish and faux intellectualism.  I can only surmise that you wanted to use satire to comment on an analysis of satire.

Which is why I love you, Anonymous.  And how I do love you for this.

Cheers! —IM

* If you can make it through my stilted prose and pretensions to some modicum of literacy, this, Dear Anonymous, is what we faux intellectuals like to call “satire.”  Or perhaps it’s just what my mom likes to call “passive aggressive.”  Why don’t you let me know.

Science Fictional News from Around the Web

19 May

It was the best of times, it was the weirdest of times…  Ebooks have taken over the market, the CDC released preparedness tips for surviving a Zombie Apocalypse, and art museums are for the masses, online: this is your science fictional news from around the Web.

Original CDC blog post

1. Re: Your Brains

For those of you not packing your bags for the Rapture this Saturday, you might want to check out the CDC ‘s latest blog post on preparing for the Zombiepocalypse.  Because along with demons and emissaries of Satan, the undead will probably be stalking us sinners left behind too.

Yes, the Center for Disease Control actually wants us to prepare for avoiding and destroying reanimated brain-eating monsters.  It’s a brilliant advertising campaign, actually:

The rise of zombies in pop culture has given credence to the idea that a zombie apocalypse could happen. In such a scenario zombies would take over entire countries, roaming city streets eating anything living that got in their way. The proliferation of this idea has led many people to wonder “How do I prepare for a zombie apocalypse?”

Well, we’re here to answer that question for you, and hopefully share a few tips about preparing for realemergencies too!

In other words, keep watching The Walking Dead and remember the tips you learn if/when something more banal happens in your community.  The very idea of it had me laughing out loud, and a lot of other people too, considering the CDC blog crashed for nearly a day when twitterers kept linking to the site.  Love it.  Who says all government agencies are stuffy?

2. All Will Be Assimilated

Four years ago, Amazon released its celebrated Kindle and started selling ebooks online.  For a while, skeptics, Luddites, and the like assured themselves and each other that ebooks and e-readers were a novelty, and would never have an appreciable impact on the book industry.

Well smell goodbye to your musty old paper books, friends, because it’s the future, and you just got pwned.

CNN Tech news reports that Amazon ebooks are now outselling both paperback and hardcover books combined.  In four years?  That was faster than even Amazon’s expectations, but I don’t think Jeff Bezos is complaining.  I remember that letter that came with my Kindle two years ago, thanking me for being an “early adopter.”  Finally, that $250 purchase has been justified in the eyes of some of my technophobic acquaintances, and it’s time to rub it in their faces.

CNN Tech news article

Amazon introduced the Kindle e-reader in November 2007. By July 2010, Kindle book sales had surpassed hardcover book sales, and six months later, Kindle books overtook paperback books to become the most popular format on Amazon.com, the online retailer said.

Of course, these stats only represent sales of books on Amazon.com, the only place consumers can buy e-books for the Kindle. When sales of books from other websites and brick-and-mortar stores are factored in, e-books still represent a small minority of all titles purchased, although some analysts predict they could reach 20% within a year or two.

Of course, print books are hardly dead; hardcover sales increased by 6%, and paperbacks by 1.2%.  Book sales are up, e-reader sales are up, and the American public is reading more than every (who’da thunk it).  So everyone wins… but especially Kindle users.

3. Pixel Perfect

Virtually projecting yourself somewhere else may be a post-Singularity technology, but leave it to Google to get pretty darn close.  The Google Art Project is to museums what GoogleBooks is to libraries–not a replacement (yet), but a supplement.  Log onto your Google account to:

“Explore museums from around the world, discover and view hundreds of artworks at incredible zoom levels, and even create and share your own collection of masterpieces.”

Images are high quality beyond imagination (read: 7 billion pixels).  Check out creator Amit Sood’s recent TED talk on the project.

Botnet Apocalypse FTW (review: Joe is Online)

13 May

Whatever SF stands for these days, nothing beats good old-fashioned sci-fi.  Not that there’s anything old-fashioned about Chris Wimpress’s #winning debut novel Joe is Online.  It’s just plain good.

Wimpress submitted his book for review one month and one day ago, with a brief blurb and this to say: ‘Joe is Online’ spans continents and decades. Its setting is the boundary where the online and offline worlds meet.  I was immediately intrigued.  And I have a confession to make: while I really am “booked” up into 2012, I pushed Joe is Online to the front of the queue for a number of reasons.  One, I’m an entirely unethical, dishonest reviewer (see review calendar disclaimer); two, I can’t resist the words “cyber-terrorism” in a book description; and three, I just wanted to read it.  Shell out the $0.99 for an ebook copy and you won’t only not blame me–you’ll thank me.

the Scattering’s been live for 2 years and 2 days now (wish me happy birthday), and in the time I’ve been blogging I have had the good fortune to read (for free, which makes it especially good fortune) around 25 novels and short story collections by indie authors of the web, all of which were interesting, most of which were as good as anything selling from traditional publishers, and some of which were far above.  Joe is Online is in the stratosphere.

I showed Charlie the cover and she said: "That's a really creepy title." And it is, friends. It is.

Wimpress’s novel is a patchwork of plot, people, and an innovative writing style that, under the author’s guiding hand, coheres into a fully believable, thoroughly chilling image of the near future.  Chris Wimpress wrote that Joe is Online takes place where the offline and online worlds meet, and he’s exactly right.  We’re living in a time when our physical existence is getting more and more entangled in the virtual web of the World Wide Web–and, for better or worse, would have a pretty damn hard time getting along without it.  The world of Joe is Online is a speculative one, sure, where timid academics join up with radical tele-atheists to fight a growing cyber-terrorist cult (for more information on how to get involved, contact joe@theintercession.org).  But it’s our world too, and even more unnerving for that fact.

Joe is Online is about 5,000 Kindle locations–average novel length, but epic in scope.  We start way back in the dark ages (the late 1990s), following an angry young boy named (guess who?) Joe, who might not have grown up to be a computer-hacking terrorist leader if he’d had more adults like the encouraging elementary school art teacher in his life.  In a secret .doc diary, Joe lets us know that he’s playing what his history teacher calls “the long game” (and what LOST fans call “the long con”).  And he means it.  Joe grows up fast online, and becomes a cyber-cult leader so persuasive that, seriously, even I started getting sucked into his propagandistic emails.  Maybe I’ve been reading too much Philip K. Dick, but what if the culture war is a set of competing constructs designed to pit people against each other so the powerful elites can gain ever more power, and social networking sites are just tools of our intelligence-gathering enslavers, and the only way to stop it is by spreading the “parcel” virus to every corner of the internet and purge the Web of the false idols so that… so that…

You get the picture.  You get halfway through the book and these things start to sound… logical (and it’s friggin’ creepy, believe me).

It’s a testament to the author’s brilliant writing.  Chris Wimpress’s skill in creating a compelling story from these emails and chat log snippets is nothing less than masterful.  Without an omniscient narrator telling us what our villains and heroines are thinking, a less adept author might end up with flat characters and a jagged narrative flow.  Luckily for the reader, Joe is Online gives us depth in characters such as the love-torn professor Penelope, and veiled mystery in our titular antagonist Joe (part of the fun is trying to figure out if our Dear Leader really believes what he’s saying, or is just as cynical as the middle-school hacker we first meet).

*** Final Verdict

Recommendation:  Yes.  Yes yes yes.  Joe is Online gets five stars, two thumbs, and the Scattering’s Shindig Award, in honor of the fantastic book reviewed two days after the baby blog’s 2nd birthday.  This is a novel to satisfy fans of Hard Sci-Fi (it has hackers!), Soft Sci-Fi (it has culture wars!), and Speculative Fiction (it’s in the future!) alike.  From middle school art rooms, to the hallowed halls of academia, to every creepy chat room on the Net, Chris Wimpress knows exactly what he’s writing about, and takes us there is glorious technical.  Or HD.  Whatever.

Reading Time: 2-3 weeks, in the midst of studying for the GRE.

Availability: Find Joe is Online for $0.99 right here, as an ebook on Amazon.

Similar to… Robert J. Sawyer (FlashForward), Walter Jon Williams (This Is Not A Game), David Louis Edelman (Infoquake)

We’re All Cyborgs Now

28 Apr

I have no idea if we’re news or not, but Tuscaloosa (my sweet home University of Alabama) was hit by a devestating tornado yesterday evening.

University operations have been suspended indefinitely, and final exams next week have been cancelled.  It’s like a scene from a disaster movie (and the city looks like it).  Someone–either an illiterate fundamentalist (I’m sure we have our share of those) or an ironic hipster (and those)–chalked “Revelator” and “Is this God’s punish?” on the plaza this morning.  While the campus (all but a chink of Bryant Denny Stadium) is intact, off-campus student housing was hit hard, displaced students are camping in the Rec Center, and My Dear Charlie’s out volunteering to clean up the city.  Meanwhile, I’m camping at one of my awesome prof’s house with a bunch of classmates, hitching on his power and wireless.

But this is a science fiction blog, so the point is this: when the electricity and Internet went out on campus at 5:30-ish yesterday afternoon, we college students loss half of our brains.

I realize it’s not the Singularity yet, but we kind of are living in a world of augmented reality.  You know, the definition of “Cyborg” is actually looser than one might expect:

It ain’t fiction no more now, kids.

Anyone who uses the Internet on a regular basis–for communication, socialization, entertainment, work or study–has extended their biological capacities using technology.  My memory is on my hard drive and in the cloud; all the research I’ve done, a whole lot of the things I’ve said to friends, the plans I’ve made are embedded in the cyber-infrastructure of the webmind.  It’s both terrifying and friggin awesome.

I’m fortunate to be uninjured and unscathed, along with my friends and family, but what little loss we’re suffering on campus (power, Internet) makes me think about how much of ourselves we’ve put into our technology.  You know me better than to think I’m going to go on some “back to nature!” rant, and I’m totally not even hinting at that.  All I’m saying is that it just struck me yesterday: we’re all cyborgs now.

The Cyber War is On (now reading: Joe is Online)

21 Apr

Remember back in December, when anonymous “hacktivists” rallied in defense of their online master, the notorious Julian Assange of Wikileaks fame?  As astonishing as that was, and as sensationalistic as the news reports were, the skirmish ended too soon for the DDoS attacks to be the cyber-war everyone seemed to be predicting.  But for those who were disappointed by the anticlimax, Chris Wimpress brings Joe is Online, an impressive and original story about our future shadowy overlords: kids who grew up hacking into school computers.  Here’s the book blurb:

A story told entirely through emails, blogs, chatroom logs, websites and diary entries. A world where anyone could be a terrorist.

Joseph Brady is not a normal 11 year-old. The brightest kid in his school, but also the worst-behaved. His teachers despair and can’t control him. They place him in isolation in the artroom at lunchtimes. It doesn’t take Joe long to work out how to use the artroom computer.

In 1997 Joe finds a way of getting the artroom computer online. Twenty years later, he’ll be conducting highly co-ordinated terrorist attacks, beginning in the online world, but very quickly spreading into the offline world.

Nobody can trace their source until a quiet, shy professor in terrorism called Penelope Hunt discovers a link to Joe. She finds herself sucked into a conspiracy which transcends race and religion. With only a radical tele-atheist to help her, Penny decides to shut down Joe’s activities, placing her own life in grave danger in the process.

Review forthcoming.  But for now, Joe is Online as an ebook on Amazon.

Be A Good Cyber-Citizen: Edit Wikipedia

18 Mar

After reading China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station, my Facebook religious views status read “Cult of Palgolak” for a couple months.  Because the truth is, if I were to believe in a deity, it would totally be this one:

(Wikipedia) Palgolak is the god of knowledge, who features in the novel Perdido Street Station. Palgolak is typically depicted as either a human or a Vodyanoi, sitting in a bathtub that floats mystically across the cosmos’ infinite dimensions, observing and learning. It is believed that anything learned by a follower of Palgolak is also known by Palgolak himself, a quality that gives his worshipers desire for knowledge.

And from the book itself:

He was an amiable, pleasant deity, a sage whose existence was entirely devoted to the collection, categorization, and dissemination of information … Everything known by a worshipper was immediately known by Palgolak, which was why they were religiously charged to read voraciously. But their mission was only secondarily for the glory of Palgolak, and primarily for the glory of knowledge, which was why they were sworn to admit all who wished to enter into their library.

I love the idea of a religion completely devoted to the creation, consumption, and dissemination of knowledge–I tell my classmates, only half-joking, that Amelia Gayle Gorgas Library on campus is my church.  But in this digital age of ours, the real manifestation of the Cult of Palgolak and library cathedral would have to be Wikipedia.

Wikipedia editors are volunteers, contributing to the largest encyclopedia in human history, available to anyone with an Internet connection.  It’s the bane of teachers, the holy grail of homework, the first resource of anyone looking for information on any topic in almost any language, and the most successful digital humanities projects… ever.  Democratization of information ftw!

This semester I’m taking a class through the UA history department called Intro to Digital Humanities.  Basically, DH (and no, I don’t mean Deathly Hallows) is about integrating technology into traditional scholarship (particularly in the more qualitative fields of the humanities).  What our excellent professor suggested the first day of class, however, is that DH is a set of values too: an ethos of collaboration and sharing that the Internet makes possible on a wider scale than ever.  Wikipedia definitely brings together technology and research, but it also demonstrates that collaborative spirit in action.  It’s kind of a crazy utopian idea when you think about it–but it’s working.

Last class, we had a guest speaker join us, a professor of Middle-Eastern History from Florida State University.  We had a long debate about the value of Wikipedia (the class seemed to divide fairly quickly into idealists and skeptics)–and then our guest asked how many of us have ever edited a Wikipedia article.  No hands.  And then we broke for Spring Break.

But it made me think–we’re in a class all about the sharing of information, and not even contributing to the greatest such project in human history.  Volunteering to edit Wikipedia is an act of democratic participation–maybe even a sign of good global citizenship.  You don’t have to be a worshipper of Palgolak to start to feel that participation is almost a moral duty.  Which is why I’m making a belated New Year’s resolution to be an active Wikipedia editor.  Current task? the Unreferenced Articles WikiProject.  As a history student, I’ve got some mad citation skills.

So now the only question is– when can I put this on my resume under community service?

History of Science Fiction by a Really Meticulous Artist

10 Mar

This may be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen–even if it wipes the table with my rag of a blog.  Ward Shelley must be brilliant, crazy well-read, and a bit of a digital humanist to make this:

Click here for the complete version. Also, someone let me know if this is for sale as a print.

Branching from the Gothic novel’s fine, but personally, I’m not sure that Gormenghast belongs so very close to “Sword and Sorcery” tales.  Anyway, see Flowing Data for more really intense data visualization projects.

Update: This has been the 185th post of the Scattering.  There will be more, soon–it’s Spring Break!  And because I’m kind of ridiculous, I’ll be spending it reading SF.  Up next: The Doom Guardian, by Julie Ann Dawson.

Verdict? The Lancaster Rule, by T.K. Toppin

13 Feb

Well, it wasn’t about the War of the Roses after all, but that’s no loss for an avid reader hungering for a new novel to take on classic themes: time travel, new (and frightening) world orders, and the total psychological dislocation of falling asleep in the 21st century and waking up in the 24th.

Like a future Rip van Winkle, our heroine Josie Bettencourt wakes up bewitched and bewildered in a world she doesn’t recognize:

The world loathes Josie Bettencourt’s kind– pod-survivors from the past. When death is certain, an ex-military and friend to the pod-hunters, saves her life. Unfortunately, she is soon arrested and taken straight to the Citadel, the heart of the Lancaster regime where they have ruled tyrannically for over fifty years. Now, young John is in power, hoping to make a change, to erase the wars, famines and unimaginable terror. When Josie meets the frighteningly powerful John Lancaster, she has to ask, is he really the so-called tyrants’ spawn? She soon discovers who the true tyrants are by unraveling a deadly plot to take over the world.  And she realizes that her life in this new future are indelibly linked to the one she left behind.

T.K. Toppin’s lyrical writing style adds a certain elegance to a story that could easily have become as hard and cold as a tyrannical world government, and her characters evolve over the course of the novel, however sudden their awakening may have been at the start.

Recommendation: At $6.00 for the Kindle, The Lancaster Rule’s pricing is a little steep for an indie SF ebook (bestsellers on Amazon are $9.99).  But the writing is high-quality and the story has depth–definite pros tipping this review to a “worth it.”  Also, the cover art’s pretty intense.

Reading time: At a fairly-long 380 pages, I’d give it from 2 to 3 weeks.

The Lancaster Rule is available as an ebook for $6.00 on Amazon.

As I lay me down to sleep… (review The Lancaster Rule)

13 Feb

… I pray the Lord my soul to keep.  If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my body to preserve in a stasis pod deep underground for a couple hundred years to slow cellular degeneration and essentially keep me immortal.  Amen.

I imagine that’s how Dr. Peter Bettencourt taught his daughter to pray, just before he made her a riff on Rip van Winkle.  Open your mouth for the choo-choo train, Josie!  It’s a dangerous chemical cocktail I cooked up in the lab to help you fall asleep for a long, long time.

All right, so maybe the good doctor had better reasons than that for sending his daughter rocketing three centuries into the future in a secret cryogenic chamber buried under her childhood home.  Government oppression’s a pretty good reason.  The Bettencourts were just another happy family (with a mad scientist dad, as is quite normal in science fiction) in 2033, when Dane Lancaster became President of a friggin scary union of Europe and the Americas.  Dane was “maniacal,” a “tyrant,” “corrupted.”  According to Dr. Bettencourt and his Retro Movement, at least–ex-hippies who decided to put themselves to sleep ’til better times.  Bettencourt was assassinated, or something, but he managed to secret his daughter away, and 300 years later Josie finds herself resurrected by a team of “pod hunters” in Anno Lancaster, the reign of John.

Readers paging to the first chapter will find some such snippet of political exposition (something that usually, I admit, sets my teeth on edge).  But if it’s a little shaky, that’s all right–it is considerably made up for by Toppin’s virtuoso descriptive writing.  Here’s a small sample (from the pod hunters’ first look at the ancient stasis specimen):

There she lay, like a sea creature that lives in the deepest caverns of the underworld: nails grown long through the ages, curling inward like obscene tentacles, soft and rubbery from centuries in liquid.  Her dark hair had also grown long and billowy, fanning about her body like a spectral sea fern shroud.  Her body was frail and slack, weightlessly floating in the thick amniotic fluid.  The only sign of life was the low hum the pod emitted, like a chest freezer in the corner of your kitchen, and once every hour the sucking sound of the respirator pumping oxygen in once, and then out.

It’s poetry.

Equally effective is the early scene in which Josie’s consciousness begins to surface from that almost deathlike depth of sleep.  The dreamlike, feverish quality of Josie’s thoughts (via Toppin’s keyboard) is creepy, creepy, so extraordinarily creepy.  She captures the tenuous connections your mind makes as you wake up, the heaviness in the limbs and disconcerting physical weakness, the half-memories and uncertainty of what’s real and what’s imagined, the terror.

One  minute  I  was  saying  goodbye  to  my father,  and  the  next,  awaking  to  a  madness  of incomprehension.

(Time travel: Side-effects may include social upheaval and serious internal turmoil.)

Josie’s particular brand of time travel isn’t really new in the genre–earlier I mentioned Washington Irving’s famous time traveler Rip (although, let’s admit, stasis pods are quite a bit more SF than leprechauns in the Catskills).  What makes The Lancaster Rule compelling is how T.K. Toppin deals with the psychological aspects of waking up in a world that isn’t your own.

We’re all products of our time–shaped by its peculiar culture, prejudices and obsessions.  This isn’t a question of Nature vs. Nurture–it’s a simple fact of historical contingency.  We can go to Western Civ 101 and gaze blankly at powerpoints about the 15th-century, uncomprehending.  Divine Right of Kings?  But that’s ridiculous!  Or the 19th century (what do you mean women are less intelligent than men because menstruations diverts so much blood from the brain?).  Even just decades ago, the culture and values of parents and grandparents.  It all seems absurd to us, and while some people of the time thought it was absurd too, it was perfectly logical to most.  We would be lost in the worlds of the past, but to those who lived in them, it all made perfect sense.

If you move in time, forward or back, it’s not just a spacial-temporal dislocation–it’s a cultural one too.  God Emperor of Dune (fourth in Frank Herbert’s famous series, but first in my heart, and the origin of this blog’s URL) started me thinking along these lines.  In GEoD [spoiler alert], Leto Atreides has become immortal, for various sundry reasons that involve sandworms and space (of course).  And to keep him company through the eons, he resurrects one after the other after the other a series of “gholas” (read clones) of his faithful friend of the old days, Duncan Idaho.  And Duncan has some problems with this:

Leto had a name for this transformation of the Duncans.  He called it “The Since Syndrome.”

The gholas often nurtured suspicions about the secret things which might have been developed over the centuries of oblivion since they last knew awareness.  What had people been doing all that time?  Why could they possibly want me, this relic from their past?  No ego could ever overcome such doubts forever–especially in a doubting man …

“It’s not real,” Idaho said.  “I don’t belong here … I mean here, now!  In this time!”

Idaho swallowed, and then: “You’ve committed a crime against us, Leto, against all of us–the gholas you resurrect without ever asking us if that’s what we want … There’s a time, Leto, a time when you’re alive.  A time when you’re supposed to be alive.  It can have a magic, that time, while you’re living it.  You know you’re never going to see a time like that again.”

Leto blinked, touched by the Duncan’s distress.  The words were evocative.

Idaho raised both hands, palms up, to chest-height, a beggar asking for something he knew he could not receive.

“Then… one day you wake up and you remember dying…and you remember the axolotl tank…and the Tleilaxu nastiness which awakened you…and it’s supposed to start all over again.  But it doesn’t.  It never does, Leto.  That’s a crime!”

“I have taken away the magic?”

“Yes!”

In other words, you can never go home again.

This is the kind of psychological distress Josie has to overcome in The Lancaster Rule–the incomprehensibility of total dislocation.  Plot twists and turns aside, this is the most compelling part of the novel for me, and a major aspect of Toppin’s excellent characterization.  T.K. Toppin confronts a classic SF conceit with insight, sensitivity, and a purely poetic writing style.

The Lancaster Rule is available as an ebook from Amazon for $6.0o.

Verdict? SEAMS 16: A New Home, by Eric B. Thomasma

29 Jan

Author Eric B. Thomasma wrote his debut novel in and out of waiting rooms.  He writes as a preface to the Kindle version of the book:

My father was battling cancer at the time and I took him to all of his appointments.  Writing became a means of escaping the depressing circumstances and helped me maintain a positive attitude toward the treatments.  Sadly, my Dad lost his battle before I finished the story, so he was never able to read it, but I like to think he would approve.

With that said, SEAMS16: A New Home is a SF mystery strong enough to stand on its own without preface–Thomasma writes with clear, clean prose and solid storytelling.  His protagonists undergo realistic changes as the novel’s stream of events begins to flow (Charlie from a hopelessly innocent student to a leader in the face of… well, corporate and extraterrestrial danger).

And while Charlie Samplin’s our hero, Thomasma crafts an equally compelling heroine in Susan Samplin, the space station technician’s sharp-witted wife.  If the cover art gives the perception that Susan’s a fragile little woman clinging for safety to her brawny husband, you’re being misled.  One of my greatest pet peeves about science fiction and fantasy is how poorly authors fashion leading ladies: so often they’re either non-existent, or implausibly two-dimensional.  But Susan Samplin can hold her own.

Reading Time: From a college student at the start of a busy new semester, two weeks.

Recommendation: Science fiction has gone mainstream–at least on television.  In the recent past and present we’ve had LOST, Fringe, The Cape, FlashForward, The Event, and V, just to name shows on the major networks.  The best way I can think to describe SEAMS16 is just that: mainstream.  Readers need not fear complicated jargon or subgenre in-jokes (as fun as those can be sometimes).  With stories of space travel, aliens, and creepy corporate entities so popular these days, any one who can read can read this book.

SEAMS16: A New Home is available as an ebook from Amazon for $0.99