More Complex

February 21, 2014

I’ve been thinking about a passage from a story all week.

The story was “Immersion”, by Aliette de Bodard, and I read it via the Escape Pod-cast, last weekend; mostly while walking out in the snow on Sunday morning. It’s a great tale about technology and culture, but the passage is this:

“[It was] conceived by a Galactic mind… every logical connection within it exudes a mindset that might as well be alien to these girls. It takes a Galactic to believe that you can take a whole culture and reduce it to algorithms; that language and customs can be boiled to just a simple set of rules. For these girls, things are so much more complex than this… they’ll never ever think like that.”

Maybe I’ve got the Galactic mindset already, because what I immediately thought after listening to that passage was “Does it make sense to talk about ANYTHING being ‘more complex’ than algorithms?” I’m not talking about particular algorithms here, but about the concept of ‘algorithms’ in the abstract.

If you’re not familiar with the term, an ‘algorithm’ is a defined set of rules for solving a problem, suitable for a computer to follow. (Though you don’t have to be a computer to use them; most recipes for baking or cooking are algorithms, for instance, as well as driving directions or other instructions to give to people.) In the field of software and computing, an algorithm is generally distinct from the specific program written in a particular programming language which implements it.

And not all algorithms are simple, by any means. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are algorithms used by Google, for instance, so complicated that no one person understands all the details of them, only the broad outline and their particular specialty component. Algorithms can, in theory, solve a lot of problems if they’re provided with the right information. There’s a field within computer science about unsolvable problems, or problems that we suspect can’t be solved without taking too much time to be practical beyond simple cases, but even then, you can get a long way with the right algorithm if you let go of the idea of the ‘perfect’ solution and are satisfied with something in the right ballpark.

And when it comes down to it, I don’t really think we, as people, have special powers in our minds that computers could never match or compare to. The human brain is a wonderful thing, yes, and we haven’t written algorithms that can math a lot of what we can accomplish. But that’s just because we’ve been working for thousands of years at culture, language, and customs, and only a few hundred years at writing algorithms.

I can’t wait to see what we come up with next. Though if we succeed in making computer programs that can write their own software and fiction, I may be out of work for a while. 😉

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Are you (walking/driving) comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

January 28, 2014

Okay, I’ve dived into my new Escape Artist podcasts, and don’t think I’ll be backing out, though it’ll probably (hopefully?) take me a long time to catch up on the incredible backlog of stories there. I started listening to them when braving the elements yesterday to get some exercise and fresh air on a day when the weather was lousy enough that I worked from home instead of driving into the office. And the stories were good enough to make me forget about the treacherous sidewalks I was picking my way over and lose myself to a faraway seashore with a boy genius and a great city besieged by intangible aliens.

It was as that second podcast was starting, that I thought of the quote I paraphrased in the title. I never listened to “Listen with Mother” on the radio, or watched on the television. The most direct experience I have with it was when it was sampled on Doctor Who, or referenced by Flanders and Swann. But I love the idea of these fiction podcasts as storytelling for the new millenium. They have a different kind of feel from longer audiobooks, or podcasting shows that are centered around the hosts and the general topic.

This morning, I listened to the same podcast on the drive into work, and got a pleasant surprise at the end of it, as an Escape Artist editor came on to summarize some listener e-mail and/or reviews they got for an earlier story–by Brad Hafford! I met Brad this summer; he was our resident adviser for Odyssey, and though I knew he was a talented writer, I guess I’d never bothered to track down his publications. Now I know where to find at least one; it wasn’t on the Escape Pod iTunes feed, but the archives on the Escape Pod website seem to go all the way back to the beginning.

What’s the coolest unexpected surprise you’ve ever found in a podcast?


So much to read, and listen to–so little time!

January 25, 2014

I’ve been doing some planning for my reading of 2014 lately. So far, in the new year, I’ve read ‘Discworld: Reaper Man’ from the library, listened to a Vampire Diaries digital audiobook also from the local library, read quite a bit from my Kindle magazines, including the conclusion of the ‘Lockstep’ serial in Analog.

One thing I definitely want to get back to is making sure that I’m well read on the classics of SF. Two and a half years ago, after going to the Young Gunns workshop for the first time, I realized that I had some catch-up reading to do and downloaded several Audible books from the CSSF Institute curriculum for SF teachers. It took me over a year to finish the last of those five books, and I’ve added a few other books from the list, like Childhood’s End, The Puppet Masters, and The Time Machine, but I haven’t tried to tackle it systematically since. Until now.

For my first Audible picks of the year, I took the original ‘Dune’, which I never read, and “The Handmaid’s Tale.” I also picked a couple audiobooks that weren’t on the CSSF list: “Thuvia Maid of Mars”, which I tried reading on my phone last year because I liked the original Barsoom trilogy so much, but couldn’t motivate myself to continue, and “Sandman Slim”, a recommendation that’s been sitting on my wish list since last summer; one of a trio of suggestions for fans of Harry Dresden, actually. The Iron Druid and Kate Daniels books have worked out, so why not give Slim a try?

I’m also hoping to listen to ‘Neuromancer’ soon; I didn’t grab that one from Audible because it’s available for downloading from the library, whoo-hoo! Which brings me to some other reading lists I’ve been working on; series that I’ve enjoyed and wish to continue, like the Spiderwick Chronicles, Heechee Saga, Jeeves, Culture, John De Chancie’s Castle Perilous books; and authors who don’t have specific series I’m in the middle of but I know I want to read more of, including Neil Gaiman, Sophie Kinsella, Lani Diane Rich, Wil Wheaton, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C Clarke, Theodore Sturgeon, and Robert Heinlein. I’ve gone through a lot of these with the library catalog, figuring out which books I could borrow and in what formats.

Then there’s the books I’ve already got on my ‘to read’ piles: I got several paperbacks for my birthday and christmas, including Elizabeth Moon, the latest Iron Druid, and two Diana Wynne Jones. Also some Sherlock Holmes on this list, a Song of Ice and Fire, and the collaborated Myth-Adventures…

As if all this weren’t enough, I’ve finally taken Elizabeth Twist’s advice to check out the Escape Artists story podcasts. Now, I have eighty-some MP3 fantasy and SF stories sitting on my hard drive, and I’m not even sure where to start first. Thanks a lot, Elizabeth! 😉

So, what about you? Is there anything particular you’re looking forward to reading (either print or audio) in 2014?


A small Firefly shoutout in an Analog story!

December 6, 2013

Hey! Just a quick post as I bed headwards this evening, because there was something cool I came across as I read on the bus this morning. I was cruising through the second half of a novella by Richard A. Lovett, fourth in a series about an AI implant named Brittney, called “Music to Me.” Brittney is a big fan of human videos and music, and she’s confronting another group of AIs who want her to join them on the web, leaving her new human partner behind. Suddenly, I come across this passage…

Another vid-line popped to mind:

“A man learns the details of a situation like ours, then he has a choice,” one character says–implying the man in question could either help make the situation right, or ignore it.

The response: “I don’t believe he does.”

Damn, I wanted that vid back too. I’d kept key vid-lines in core memory, but when I’d lost the vids, I’d also lost many of the titles. In this case, all I remembered was something about lightning bugs in space, which seemed dubious.

In case you’re not a Browncoat, the lines are classic Joss Whedon dialog from the episode “The Train Job,” with the second one delivered by Nathan Fillion as Malcolm Reynolds. It’s all very casual, not including titles or character names, probably to avoid giving FoxCorp a trademark infringement claim, but I love the bit about dubious lightning bugs in space.

So goodnight, and shiny dreams!


In which my Kindle goes back to the USA for magazines

August 5, 2013

Not physically. Let’s see… I was at Williams by the Pier in Hamilton with Elizabeth Twist, catching up and doing our Evensies (even Sundays,) write-in thing, and happened to mention my frustration with Amazon.ca and magazines. Elizabeth’s immediate reaction was that I should send out angry customer support emails until they got my Kindle account switched back to amazon.com, as the best part of having the Kindle, in her experience, was for the magazines.

I don’t tend to default to ‘angry’ with my customer support emails, but I sent out a plea for help to Amazon.com right there in the cafe, and also read her the email I’d sent to Amazon.ca last week and their completely unhelpful brush-off form letter.

Somewhat to my surprise, an Amazon customer support person by the name of Naveen replied within four hours, including very helpful instructions on how to navigate the Amazon.ca website to migrate my account back to Amazon.com – thank you very much Naveen! I have brand new issues of Analog and F&SF on my Kindle, and I’ll be starting a subscription to Asimov’s as soon as they get a new issue out. (The issue that’s currently up on Amazon.com is the same one that Sheila was handing out for free back at Odyssey, so I thought I could read that in print and wait a month.)

Thank you very much for pushing me to try again Elizabeth!


Why can’t Amazon Canada sell me Kindle magazines?

August 1, 2013

So… I think it was back in March or April that I finally clicked on the prompt in Amazon Kindle management that had been nagging at me to flip my Kindle account over to Amazon Canada. I think I made the final decision because I could save a few bucks on a Jim Butcher book I wanted to buy, “Ghost Story.” There was a notification saying that I’d lose any magazine subscriptions, but I didn’t really worry about that; I’d been getting the F&SF free digest for about a year, enjoying the free short story every two months, but I was a little down on short stories just at that point anyway.

What a difference a few months make. I came back from Odyssey all fired to catch up on the major genre magazines, and was assuming that I’d be able to load up on Kindle subscriptions. Imagine my fury when I found out that not only did I lose the subscriptions I had when I flipped the account, I couldn’t resubscribe to any magazines because Amazon Canada doesn’t do magazines or periodical subscriptions! And there doesn’t appear to be any way to flip my Kindle back to an amazon.com account… at least not without a US based credit card. 😦

Now, things aren’t as bad as they might be. Of the genre magazines that amazon.com sells subscriptions to, several of them both offer their stories free online and sell their own .mobi format subscriptions. A couple, namely Asimov’s and Analog, have other options that I can read on my smartphones or a tablet, if I buy a tablet. Only The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction appears to give me no options to read their stories but amazon.com, amazon.co.uk, and dead trees. Sigh.

I’m left full of questions, especially about the options for Analog/Asimov’s. I’ve tried a free trial of Analog through the ‘Magzter’ iphone app, and it seems to be slightly frustrating because the page layout is fixed, so I have to zoom in on every page, then scroll down each column and then up to the top of the next column–but at least that’s doable. I haven’t been able to find those magazines in the apple Itunes newsstand, or under the Xinio iphone app. And I’m not sure if I should hold back on getting a yearly subscription for an iPhone solution if I might be getting an Android tablet soon, in which case I could go with Google Play Magazines. Then again, Magzter and Xinio probably have Android apps as well.

Anybody have words of wisdom about this stuff?


A Day Late: Teaser Tuesday

May 29, 2013

I’m used to being a day late for cool stuff in the Blogosphere. 🙂 I was doing my bloggy rounds this morning and happened across This little life of mine, where I came across the Teaser Tuesday meme. And I don’t believe in missing out on cool stuff, so here I go.

Here be the rules:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

So, I’m going to tease from a graphic novel: “Angel: After the Fall: First Night”, the second collection in the ‘After the Fall’ series. The random page I flipped to is actually in verse, and I couldn’t resist picking two sentences that make a rhyme:

“So Lorne hit a high note, his highest that day. And people grabbed tools and jumped into the fray!”


An Odyssey Favorite

May 25, 2013

I’ve been busy doing Odyssey prep stuff lately. This morning I went through a ‘dry run’ of packing the car, figuring out how many suitcases, storage totes, and cardboard boxes I could fit where, so that I know what to pack my stuff into. Once the car was unpacked again, I  took it through a car wash, went to CAA to renew my membership, buy travel insurance, and get some maps. And I bought some new running shoes at the mall.

One other thing I’ve been working on is an assignment where we’re supposed to bring a photocopy (or printout) of a favorite short story along with some thoughts about why we like it so much. I wasn’t quite sure what to do about this for a long time, but I’ve gone through my bookshelves for anything that would have short stories in it, and thought about some other favorite short stories of mine, like the Beowulf Shaeffer stories by Larry Niven. I have those on audio, and also in Fictionwise multiformat e-book formats, including PDF, so I suppose I could print from the PDF format.

But I’m leaning towards a particular story for sentimental reasons, including the story of how I got it. When I was young, I was a voracious reader, but I didn’t read many short stories, and definitely not from magazines. There were Isaac Asimov collections around the house, (and probably some mainstream short story anthologies that didn’t appeal to me at the time.) I definitely picked up a few science fiction anthologies at school libraries and probably public libraries too; I distinctly remember one story set after the fall of the first Terrestrial Empire, where Earthmen shaved their heads for some reason and were kept as status symbols in the courts of alien kings.

But in my late teen years, when I was starting to get interested in writing, I came across the following pieces of advice, which was pretty good, especially at the time:

  1. If you want to get published in science fiction or fantasy, you should start with submitting stories to magazines.
  2. Before you submit, or even write the story, you need to buy them and read them to see what they’re publishing.

And that was more of an adventure than you might think. In my suburban, respectable neighborhood on the West side of Hamilton, you could get a lot of magazines at the corner store, but they didn’t stock science fiction or fantasy magazines. Neither did the libraries, or even the hobby store, (though that had tabletop gaming magazines!) And being that it was the early nineties, you certainly couldn’t go and order them online. I’m sure that if I knew the right phone number or mailing address I could have gotten a subscription, but I didn’t know where to find those out.

Eventually I found a news-stand downtown that had what I needed. I think it was in Jackson Square mall, but I can’t be 100% sure about that detail. And the magazine I picked was the August 1993 issue of Analog. (That means I was seventeen going on eighteen at this point, though I’d still be in high school for another two years, which is a very different story.)

There are quite a few stories in that issue that I remember well, but the one that has stayed with me the most, and I’m considering bringing, is ‘Swan Song’ by Gregory Bennett. It’s a tale of disaster and survival on a supply run from Earth to Mars, with a really cool AI computer and cool themes about the value of family, when to take chances, and how to never play fair with Lady Luck.

🙂


Lots of Dresden Files stuff going on.

March 22, 2013

I’m on a Harry Dresden blitz at the moment. Let’s see, trying to take the list in some sort of logical order:

  • There’s only two weeks (minus a few hours,) until the Ad Astra 2013 convention kicks off in Toronto, with Jim Butcher as one of the guests of honor. I’m really excited to meet him and attend as many of his panels as I can, and a lot of the other items are about trying to get ready for Ad Astra.
  • I’ve been absorbing the Dresden Files novels on Audible at a fairly quick pace, for me at any rate. The marathon started about two months ago, Jan 13th, when I downloaded ‘Dead Beat’, the seventh in the series. I now have a little more than an hour to go in ‘Turn Coat’ (Dresden Files number eleven.) The plan is to finish the Audible version of #12, ‘Changes’, sometime in the week before Ad Astra, and get #13, “Ghost Story”, on Kindle, since that’s the one that has John Glover, not James Marsters, narrating the audiobook version. The Kindle will also be great for reading while I’m at the con.
  • Side note: If you’re catching up on the Dresden Files like me, you’re spoiler averse, and you haven’t already checked out the blurbs for #13 or #14, then don’t. As far as I can tell, there’s so many cliffhangers and plot twists at this point of the series that it’s impossible to tease what’s going on in one book without spoiling the one before. (Fortunately I don’t mind a few spoilers too much, myself 🙂 )
  • I’ve also picked up “Side Jobs”, the collection of Dresden-verse short fiction by Butcher, from the library, and read the first two pieces. It’s been fun so far, a different look at the characters and the world, and also a peek into the head of the author, since he’s written a short introduction to each one and explained the circumstances that prompted them; often an invitation to contribute something to an anthology run by somebody interesting. Read the rest of this entry »

The ending of ‘A Princess of Mars’ – Spoilers

January 15, 2013

Okay, so I reached the end of ‘A Princess of Mars’ Sunday morning, while taking my morning walk and getting Cadbury Creme Eggs from the 7-11. 🙂 And though I really enjoyed it – I have to comment on a few items that struck me as strange from near the end.

Spoilers follow, obviously.

Read the rest of this entry »


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