The Rapture of the Nerds by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross (Books 2016, 3)

I read this about a month and a half ago, and already it has slipped quite far from my memory. That's not a good sign, is it?

I’m also almost sure I wrote about it already, but it seems not. I certainly can’t find anything on either my Mac or iPhone.

But never mind. It’s Stross and Doctorow. What’s not to like? It’s also, I think, something of a fix-up. I certainly felt that I had read the early part of it before.

We’re in a near-future, post-singularity world, where our hero, Huw, wakes up with a hangover to find that he has been invited to do jury duty. But rather than determine the guilt or innocence of alleged criminals, this jury’s job is to determine the desirability of a piece of new technology.

Huw is a singularity refusenik, who wants to remain on Earth as a baseline human, rather than take advantage of the ability to upload his personality and live forever in the orbital cloud. The jury’s job is to assess whether a piece of new tech should be allowed to come back from the cloud to Earth.

At least, that’s the theory. It goes a long way from there, as you might expect.

It’s good, but as I suggested above, not that memorable. On the other hand, that could just be my memory.


Halting State, by Charles Stross (Books 2008, 13)

Posted out of sequence, for reasons unknown even to me.

Writing about this novel is kind of embarassing for me, because I had the chance to make it better than it is, and I, er, blew it because I read too slowly.

See, I was on quite a large list of people who saw a draft version of this, a year or two ago. I read most of it (or all of it, but it was incomplete, I can’t quite remember) and noted some mistakes and flaws.

But I didn’t get them all recorded properly and submitted to Charlie before the deadline. And now, when I read the published version, I find they’re all still there.

There’s nothing dramatic, nothing plot-shattering (although there are one or two places where things could be clearer, and where the cracks aren’t fully papered over: you can see where a section has been moved for dramatic purposes, but the knowledge of the protagonists hasn’t been adjusted to mark the events' new location in the overall plot, for example). It’s mainly just niggles, misuses of terminology (school years called ‘primary third’, and ‘secondary two’, instead of ‘primary three’ and ‘second year’, respectively, for example). So, just some minor distractions. And the spelling of ‘dreich’ as ‘dreicht’ throughout is curious.

But no matter. Much more interesting are the questions of how well the multiple-viewpoint second person narration works; and is the story any good?

On the first point, I had no trouble with the second-person narrative at all, and it being multiple-person is effectively no different from any other book that does that. There is rarely any confusion, not least because each chapter includes the VP character’s name as part of its title.

The story is interesting, and it investigates an area - that of security in our increasingly-networked world - that is very important, and will only get more so in the near future. But I’m not, in all honesty, sure that it really works. The various parts don’t quite gel.

And yet, I enjoyed reading it. I enjoyed being on the trip, I just look back at it and think, “It wasn’t that great."


That 'reporting back from Eastercon' business

I realise that I said I would report back from Eastercon. It already seems like quite a long time ago. I had a great time, though I missed out on the Saturday night and Sunday morning and early afternoon, as I went to collect my son from his grandparents'.

It was his first convention, and I think he quite enjoyed it; though the next time we’ll need to ensure that there are some other kids there who like Yu-Gi-Oh! (mental trading card game beloved of ten-year-old boys).

I saw some old friends and had a fine time. I was very restrained in comparison with my old conventioneering days. Early(ish) nights, the lot. It was quite refreshing to come home on the Monday and not feel at all rough.

The guests of honour were great, those of them that I saw, at least. I missed “Charlie Stross’s”:www.antipope.org/charlie/b… speech because of being away for a while, but he was by far the most visible of them all around the con. China Miéville gave a great speech about how it doesn’t spoil stories to read more into them than the author consciously intended; or than our interlocutor might say we should (you know, the kind who say, “You’re reading too much into it! It’s just a story!").

And Neil Gaiman (the net’s no. 1 Neil) was lovely. He read a short story, and talked for a bit, and then read the start of his new novel The Graveyard Book. Later on, he did a kids-only reading of The Wolves in the Walls. The best part of that was that parents and carers were allowed in too. He really knows how to handle an audience; even one of the most demanding kind, such as this.

And my boy got his books signed without having to join the apparently-mad queues for the official signing sessions.

Then there was a performance of my friend Andrew’s play, The Terminal Zone, which I wrote about when I read the chapbook, It’s a fine work. This particular performance could have done with more rehearsal, but of course, these are amateurs, fitting it all into the rest of their lives, and doing a damn fine job.

That was followed by a live set from Mitch Benn, who I’ve been a fan of for some time from his performances on Radio 4’s The Now Show, and live, he was absolutely fantastic, especially, I think, since the audience got all his SF references (you don’t say) without any prompting.

All in all, a great weekend, in a fine hotel (pity it’s lost its swimming pool, though).


The Hidden Family, by Charles Stross (Books 2008, 2)

Volume 2 (or the second half of volume 1, depending on how you look at it) of Charlie's 'Merchant Princes' series.

It continues the story of Miriam Beckstein and her recently-discovered alternative-universe family of ‘world-walkers’. In this one, Miriam discovers that (not surprisingly) there is more than one alternative Earth, and takes advantage of that fact.

Two things bother me about all this, though. One is that at no point, it seems, does she or anyone else do any investigation into the world-walking ability, or the designs of the talismans that make it work. Though I have reason to believe that that point gets addressed in a later book.

The other problem I have is just how capable Miriam is. She’s a can-do hero in the Heinlein – even in the Doc Smith – mold. Which is all very well, and all kudos to Charlie for making such a figure a woman, rather than the ubiquitous men created by those illustrious earlier writers. But those characters were never very believable, and we live in more sophisticated times now, do we not? So it’s hard to believe in someone relatively ordinary who finds themself in another universe, and who just copes. Indeed, not just copes, but prospers.

On the other hand, I’ve said elsewhere that we don’t read SF for the characters, but for the stories (and the ideas, of course). And this is a great story that I sat up late to finish. And you can’t argue with that.


Book Notes 25: The Family Trade, by Charles Stross

Charlie shows that he can write heroic fantasy as well as everything else. Except, of course, it isn't really fantasy. When your hero discovers she can switch at will (or "world walk") between the "real" world (present-day America) and an alternative world (geographically similar, inhabited, but never had industrialisation) then what you are dealing with seems a lot more like SF to me.

Of course, the alternative world works on a feudal system, and weapons are mediaeval (apart from ones that have been carried over from “our” world). So it has some of the tropes of fantasy, and more may develop. But it looks like there won’t be any magic other than the world-walking ability.

The main fault with it is that it shows its history as the first part of a much longer book which the publishers decided should be split in two. So just as it’s starting to get really interesting, it ends.

Oh well, I look forward to reading the second part, and its sequels.