Mind of My Mind by Octavia E Butler (Books 2015, 7)

The next book in the Patternist series after Wild Seed, which I wrote about before. I would describe it as the sequel to the other one, except that it turns out that they were written out of sequence.

This perhaps explains why the character of Anyanwu, who, as you’ll recall, I felt was slightly disappointing in the first book, is completely sidelined and, indeed, thrown away, in this one.

The other reason is that the focus has moved on to a new generation of Doro’s descendants. We are in mid to late 20th-century America, and his breeding programme is finally beginning to pay off. More spectacularly than he had ever imagined, it seems, as some of his telepaths — who up until now have not been able to bear being near each other — form a kind of group or meld they call the Pattern.

This makes them able to both work and live together, and increases their power and effectiveness enormously.

Things ensue. It’s good, but still feels kind of weak to me. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t that compelling.

Also I thought I had read this one, years ago, but none of it was even the slightest bit familiar to me, so I guess not.

Mind of My Mind by Octavia E Butler (Books 2015, 7)

The Phantom Menace

Just who (or what) is the menacing phantom?

Following on from my On things never seen post, yesterday was Father's Day, and we watched The Phantom Menace.

It is not as bad – not nearly as bad – as nearly everyone makes out.

It starts badly, oddly enough. Not just the dull scroll about the Trade Federation, but then you have the Japanese-sounding guys in charge of the blockade and invasion, who are voiced by people who seemingly can't act. Their dialogue is frankly embarrassing.

But much of it is fine. Sure, there are holes in the logic, places where it doesn't exactly make sense; but what film doesn't have instances like that?

Even – and I realise I'm committing a kind of geek sacrilege as I write this – even Jar-Jar Binks isn't that annoying. Could the plot have worked without him, or with him not being a comedic figure? Of course. But having him as he is, does no harm.

But hey: I liked Wesley Crusher, too.

And that's about as much as I'm going to say about it for now.

The Phantom Menace

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Books 2014, 13)

This is the one that’s won them all: BSFA (jointly), Clarke, Nebula, and more recently, the Hugo Award. Never before has a single book had such a sweeping effect on the world of SF awards.

And does it deserve them all? Does it live up to the effusive reaction of the community?

Err, well… no, not really.

Which is not to say it’s bad. In a sense, nothing could live up that level of praise.

However, my personal problem with it — at least at first — was this: I like my super-intelligent spaceship minds to be the good guys. To be part of, and defending, Utopia. In short, I want The Culture. And I guess I hoped that Ann Leckie might sort of take Banksie’s place.

Obviously there wasn’t much chance of that, and it isn’t fair to judge the book on those terms.

So, back to its own terms. In any case, these super-intelligent spaceship minds aren’t necessarily bad guys; but they’re in the service of a pretty unpleasant empire. Though things get ambiguous. And interesting. And of course, there’s the gender-blindness of the viewpoint character, which is great. So yeah, it was fun, I enjoyed it, it goes to some interesting places, and it sets things up nicely for a series.

Oh, god, a series. Does nobody write books in ones any more? I was just looking at the current crop of so-called “Black Friday” deals on Kindle. There were quite a lot of books for crazy-cheap prices. Except… there weren’t really that many if you count a series as one.

C’mon, folks, write a book that doesn’t have a sequel, hey?

But I digress. Go read about Ancillary Justice: you’ll find reviews of it all over the place. Then go and read it. It’s great.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Books 2014, 13)

Space bat angel dragons hatch in their own way

Sometimes you’re thinking about writing a blog post and then you write a long comment on someone else’s post that contains most of what you were planning on saying. So I wrote this as a comment on The Reinvigorated Programmer, and thought I should repeat it here.

The background: Mike, the Programmer and Doctor Who fan, if that’s not too tautologous, was complaining about the latest episode, “Kill the Moon”. Now, I didn’t think it was all that bad, as these things go, but I knew that other people, on Facebook and elsewhere, have both complained about it and praised it. Which seems to be par for the course this series (and maybe every series). Anyway, I had some thoughts on the matter, and put them like this.

I was disappointed that they didn’t put in at least a handwavy explanation of the extra mass (which they could have done: posit highly-effecient energy-to-mass conversion, and the sun). But as people have said in other places, you’re accepting a time-travelling, dimensionally-transcendental blue box, and a regenerating Time Lord, so…?

As to the biology of the creature… well, it’s alien. Possibly one of a kind. Why wouldn’t it lay an egg as soon as it hatched? Remembering that “egg” and “hatch” are only our Terracentrist words for something entirely other.

Indeed, that could be exactly why the creature’s mass spikes in the last few years or months of its dormant cycle: it’s forming the new “egg” so it itself will be ready to “hatch”.

And by default it would be in the same orbit, unless something displaced it.

But yes, while you can argue all that, the story would have been improved if it had included at least a nod to those points. And they should have got their sums right.

But I think there’s something bigger going on across this whole series. It’s the development of Clara’s character, and Danny’s secret, and everything. It’s more: I just have a feeling that there’s something else behind it all. Maybe I’ve just been trained to expect a season arc since the Bad Wolf, but… there’s definitely something going on.

And Missy and the promised land, of course.

Someone somewhere suggested that maybe the whole series is taking place in a miniscope, since the Doc mentioned them in episode 3. I hope it’s more than that.

Space bat angel dragons hatch in their own way

Aliens Among Us

I never bothered to watch Alien Resurrection because I didn’t like Alien3 (or Cubed, as I always see it). So now, browsing the new, freshly-in-beta SF Encyclopaedia I find it was written by Joss Whedon (who doesn’t yet have an entry in said volume, but no doubt will have eventually).

Why did nobody tell me this?

It seems a particularly timely piece of information as we’ve been introducing the kids to Buffy recently (in part to get us all over the lack of Doctor Who), and also to Firefly. We are deep in the Whedonverse.

Aliens Among Us

Rainy Day Music and SF at the BL

The Saturday before last we went to the [London Feis Festival 2011](http://londonfeis.com/), in Finsbury Park. The weather was looking to be quite bad as we set out: it had been oscillating between sun and rain all morning. Would we be drenched or sunburned? Or both? Only time would tell.

I had been hitting the festival website to try to find out who was on when, exactly. There was a page which said (and still does, a the time of writing), ‘[Band and Stage Times: To be released on the day](http://londonfeis.com/event-info/)’. I had taken that to mean, ‘… will be announced on the website on the day’. I did wonder about how much use that would be, considering many people would be getting on their way early in the morning, or the night before, and wouldn’t have had the chance to look at the website. Then again, everyone has a smartphone nowadays, right?

Anyway, it turned out that they meant, …. will be released at the festival.’ On the bus to Finsbury Park I searched Twitter for the expected #feis hashtag, wherein some nice person had tweeted pictures of the running order (I can’t find those pictures now, but no matter). It appeared we were missing The Undertones, but we would get there in time for The Waterboys.

As indeed we did. We set up base camp near the back and listened to ‘Be My Enemy’ (timely, as I recently read Christopher Brookmyre’s novel which borrows that title) ‘Fisherman’s Blues’, ‘… And a Bang on the Ear’, and of course, ‘The Whole of the Moon’. It was great to see them again. Well, hear them; we didn’t see much from the back, and there were no big screens like at most festivals these days.

A trip to the second stage saw us Nanci Griffith, closely followed by Shane McGowan. Always good to see he’s still hanging in there, and he was in excellent voice. I note that it’s an alarming four and half years since I [last saw The Pogues](http://devilgate.org/blog/2006/01/06/the-rocky-pogue-to-brixton/).

Shane McGowan at the London Feis, 2011

Heard a bit of The Cranberries while queueing for toilet and bar. They were OK. Some Irish youngsters at the bar sang along with ‘Linger’ very sweetly.

Then back to the main stage for Christy Moore, food, and finally Dylan.

Bob Dylan at the London Feis, 2011

That’s him there in the white hat; can you tell?

It’s been a long wait for me. I know he’s been over here in the last few years, but somehow I’ve never managed to hear about the dates until it was too late. Here we were, then, finally in the distant presence of the great man himself.

And it was, as I expected, like listening to him doing cover versions of his own songs. But there’s nothing wrong with that. It was quite a ‘greatest hits’ kind of set, though, to my surprise. I had gained the impression that he mainly did newer songs these days, but there was a strong focus on Blood on the Tracks and Highway 61 Revisited. And you can’t go far wrong with those. [Here’s a full set list](http://www.examiner.com/bob-dylan-in-national/bob-dylan-set-list-london-feis-2011-finsbury-park-june-18-2011).

The only possible singalong moment was the ‘How does it feel?’ lines in ‘Like Rolling Stone’, and it made me wonder: maybe he started doing such changed versions of his songs because he doesn’t like people singing along.

I thought this stall would do roaring trade, but the rain mostly stayed off.

Umbrella stall at the London Feis, 2011

Then Sunday was [Out of this World](http://www.bl.uk/sciencefiction), the Science Fiction thing at the British Library. ‘Science Fiction, but not as you know it’, was the tag line. In fact, it was pretty much exactly as i know it, but I guess I’m part of some sort of rarefied elite, or something (or ‘fans’ as we’re known).

Anyway, it was very good, though perhaps it’s limiting, being a library: much of the exhibition was books behind glass. Which is fine, but sometimes you’d like to pick them up and handle them.

There was a Tardis in a corner of the Time Travel section, and a robot that seemed to be modelled on [HAL 9000](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HAL_9000).1

All in all, a pure dead brilliant weekend.

  1. I know it wasn’t a robot. []
Rainy Day Music and SF at the BL

Father’s Weekend

I’m thoroughly looking forward to this weekend. Not only is it the [London Feis](http://londonfeis.com/) festival tomorrow, with Bob Dylan headlining, but Sunday being Father’s Day, my treat is a visit to the [SF exhibition](http://www.bl.uk/sciencefiction) at the British Library.

Let’s hope it all goes well; the weather forecast is rain, and at least three-quarters of the family are poorly.

Father’s Weekend

Moxyland, by Lauren Beukes

Lauren Beukes has just won the Clarke Award with her Zoo City. Congratulations to her, and all.

I just finished reading her Moxyland, which I was given at last year’s Eastercon, and… I’m not so impressed.

Strange Horizons has a good dual review of it. I kind of enjoyed it, especially towards the end. But in many ways I found it annoying, and I’ve been trying to work out exactly why that is.

Part of it is the characters, I think. I don’t mind unsympathetic — even unpleasant — characters. But I think the main problem with these ones is that it’s hard to tell their voices apart, and since the story is told from multiple first-person viewpoints, that’s a problem.

But I think the biggest point of disconnection for me was technological: there is one particular item that made my disbelief-suspension system collapse in despair.

Because I can easily believe in a near future where your phone takes the place of both credit cards and cash, where it is the heart and soul of your identity, and to be disconnected would make you an unperson. But even supposing that phones could be engineered to give their owners a taser-like shock at the command of any police officer (what if your battery is low?); even supposing that a society would not rise up in protest at the madness of a government requiring its citizens to possess such a thing; and even supposing that it all worked: I can’t believe that nobody would carry them in thick rubber pockets.

So in the end, in a novel containing much about political activism, it’s the political acquiescence of its imagined society that crashed me out of the story too often.

Still, it was her first novel, and shows much promise, so I expect that Zoo City will be a worthy winner.

Moxyland, by Lauren Beukes

From Easter to Volcano Days

I don’t get round to these things quickly, but this is, at least in part, a report on my family’s visit to Eastercon. This year the British National Science Fiction Convention was practically on our doorstep, just the other side of London, at Heathrow.

As with [two years ago][easter2008], my son wanted to come. And since my daughter did as well, my beloved bit the bullet and came along too. SF isn’t totally her thing, but I think she may have enjoyed the weekend more than any of us.

[easter2008]: http://devilgate.org/blog/2008/04/03/that-reporting-back-from-eastercon-business/ “Eastercon 2008”

The telling detail was this: there are lots of things to do.

I tend to use cons as a way of seeing friends that I haven’t seen for a while — often not since the last con I was at. So I mainly hang out in the bar. Or that, at least, is the impression I gave — give — to people who don’t go to cons.

In fact, I have always gone to programme items. I guess I just never made a big thing of them when I got home.

This con — [Odyssey 2010][odyssey2010] — had a particularly good set of programme items for kids. There were hands-on science workshops, making Dalek cakes, and building string-propelled robots (my son won a prize for the best ramp-mounting attempt). And not least, a thrilling battle between various knights of the [Society for Creative Anachronism](http://www.sca.org/) (SCA).

[odyssey2010]: http://www.odyssey2010.org/

The programme was full of fascinating and fun things, many of which I wanted to see, but didn’t manage to, as ever.

And of course, I saw a lot of old friends, and had a good time hanging out in the bar with them.

We only stayed for the Friday and Saturday nights, to keep costs down. But after going home on the Sunday (and watching the new Doctor Who again), we went back on the Monday, and spent most of the day back at the [Radisson] [Radisson].

[Radisson]: http://www.radissonedwardian.com/londonuk_heathrow “The Eastercon 2010 Hotel”

Travelling all across London was a bit of drag, but it was a lot shorter than many people’s journeys. And of course, there was absolutely no chance of [ash-induced delays] [volcano].

[volcano]: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_depth/europe/2010/iceland_volcano/default.stm

Am I a bad person because I found all the volcanic disruption kind of amusing and quite fun, really? The cloudless and contrail-free blue skies over London were gorgeous, and it was interesting to follow people’s tweets of how they were striving to get home. And a world with a lot fewer flights is something we’re probably going to have to face in the future.

What annoyed me about it all were the idiots who blamed the government. Marginally more sensible than blaming ‘god’, I suppose1, but even if anything other than sending in the Navy had been the government’s decision, can you imagine the fuss if flights had been allowed to go ahead, and there _had_ been a disaster?

Plus, the idea of getting a trip home on the _[Ark Royal](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Ark_Royal “Not the original one, though”)_ is pretty cool.

  1. As somebody said, if that’s an act of god, then it’s a pretty limited kind of omnipotent deity.

From Easter to Volcano Days