Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Queen of Angels - Greg Bear

I am a shamefully lazy blogger...it's coming up on a year since my last post. I have been extremely busy, but hey, who isn't?

But just because I've not been online doesn't mean that I haven't been reading. I've been reading quite a bit, just haven't been able to get the time and get my thoughts down.

I'll try and catch up on a lot of the things that I've read in the last few months, but for now just a quick note on a book that impressed me so much that I just finished it, put it down and just powered up to rave about. Greg Bear's 1988 novel, "Queen of Angels." Superb! A millenarian tale, a bit late for one of those you might think as we steam towards the end of the first decade of the Twentieth Century. However in this case it's set in 2048, the binary millennium. Without wanting to blow the plot, in essence it's four subplots, all triggered by the brutal slaughter of a number of young people by a one of the worlds most famous and respected poets. Bear's imagining of a world sixty years from the time of writing is fascinating. Communications from an experimental AI piloting man's first interstellar probe, having arrived in Alpha Centauri eight years previously finally relativistically return home to an anxious and eager audience. Society after a series of ecological and political catastrophes has achieved and almost perfect equilibrium. Cultured, wealthy and psychologically therapied individuals live in the Combs, vast skyscraping habitats. In the Shade beneath, catching scheduled, reflected light, the less wealthy struggle to hold on to untherapied freedom, spurning the security of Comb existence to retain what they believe is their humanity. Crime has been virtually eliminated as criminality has been reclassified a disorder which can be cured. Nanobots surgically remove offending sections of the brain and psyche of those who are lucky enough to be caught by the police. The unlucky are taken by a shady, pervasive vigilante underground, The Selectors. Their use of outlawed Hellcrowns can immerse the offender in a nightmare so mind-burningly brutal, that those who are not lobotomised by the process, can never even consider committing a crime again.

An LA Public Defender, Mary Choy, genetically and surgically altered, a Transform, must find the murderer and bring him in to be therapied, before the selectors find him and administer swift justice of their own.

Sounds like a crime novel? Believe me it isn't.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

My God! It's Full of Stars!

I finally finished Kim Stanley Robinson's 1985 novel, The Memory of Whiteness this morning. My conclusions? Well, like his Mars trilogy, I'd say it was OK, many great ideas but not really a classic. However to give him credit, it is one of those literary, tough ones, where the main protagonist is gifted with a blinding, new insight into the true nature of the universe. As an author is very unlikely to have discovered a radical revelation himself, then he must depend on an imagined abstraction to try and convey the enormity of the quantum leap in our perceptions of a universal reality.

It is a perennial problem in speculative fiction. Someone or something, somehow, has discovered the next step in human evolution/the key to the origins of the universe/the definitive equation for the universal theory of everything or whatever plot device the author has decide to use. This incomprehensible is going to revolutionize the lives of every being in that fictional universe forever. The reader is tantalised, rapt, expectant! But you know you're going to be disappointed when you turn those last few pages. The heroes of the novel may transcend to that higher plane, but you're going to be dropped back into your humdrum continuum, profoundly unenlightened!

You might consider one classic example, the extended light show at the end of Kubrick's 2001. The plucky astronaut is experiencing something enormously profound, the audience knows that "something wonderful" is happening, but when (in the original 2001 novel(-isation) and in the movie sequel 2010: The Year We Make Contact) we get the line, "My God! It's full of Stars," you really would like AC Clarke to have been a little more elaborate about the nature of the profundity. Yes, it's all very trippy, but cue dubious HAL impersonation: "Sorry Dave, I don't really follow, could you try and be a little more specific."

The Memory of Whiteness depends on one of these speculative, paradigm shifting revelations. I don't want to risk a spoiler because I'd still recommend that you read this book, especially if you're a fan of the Mars trilogy. However, in the mid-eighties when KSR was writing this and quantum theories were gaining mainstream acceptance, the 10 dimensional geometry, the glints and the paradoxical determinism that the novel's main protagonist, Johannes Wright, the 9th master of Holywelkin's Orchestra, must struggle to comprehend, would have been so much more revelatory, magical, awe-inspiring and generally futuristic. A quarter of a century later in the post-post Penrose/Hawking indeterminate, infinitely parallelled reality that we perceive that we inhabit, these incomprehensibles seem a lot more mundanely credible.

It's a lot like E.E. "Doc" Smith's use of the, to him, then innovative "new magic" of atomic theory and Einsteinian relativism in the Lensman cycle. What was bleeding edge, "hard" science in the middle of the 20th century is anachronistic and to be honest, risible and annoying by the early 21st.

There's a lesson in here somewhere. Reading Scientific American and New Scientist and keeping abreast of the latest developments may help you add a patina of credibility to even the wildest fantasy, but as soon as that speculative research theory finds itself part of the accepted scientific canon, that ravishing, prophetic vision of the 3rd millennia can rapidly end up oh-so-very last century! Imagine how readers might look upon Asimov's Robots if ever true Artificial Intelligence becomes a reality. The positronic brain may end up as anachronistic as theories of the luminiferous aether or phlogistication!

Maybe that's why the "feudal" forgotten futures of series like Dune, the Books of the New Sun or even the Warhammer 40K universe are so attractive. They may ultimately be more enduring.

There's a fascinating wikipedia entry on scientific supersession here:


It's humbling to think how much of what we take as gospel today, may turn out to be total bunkum tomorrow!

Perhaps as Dave Bowman plunged into the depths of The Monolith his last transmission might more accurately have been:

"My God! It's full of Shit!"

Monday, 30 June 2008

Now Who Says Politics is Boring?

Had a bit of a restless night so I managed to make significant headway with both Chapterhouse Dune and The Memory of Whiteness. As I mentioned earlier these were books that I'd previously had problems maintaining an interest in and subsequently abandoned. A little explanation as to why is maybe called for. It probably has a lot to do with politics.

Chapterhouse Dune I'd never really given serious consideration. I struggled to get into any of the Dune cycle post-Muad'Dib. I loved Messiah and to a lesser extent Children, but they were clearly sequels to Dune itself, (as opposed to the ubiquitous trilogy mode), and seemed to be simply meeting a publisher's need rather than delivering a quality read. Too often God Emperor in particular was like wading through a gospel tract or a textbook for some geo-political economics degree course. I couldn't really get excited about the Golden Path, Leto II's transformation, more Atreides descendants, the perpetually resurrected sequence of Duncan Idaho gholas etc. The prescient Machiavellian plotting was impenetrable! It was hard work and not entirely rewarding when you got to the final page. However in Heretics the passing of a few millenia, the shift in emphasis towards the Bene Gesserit and the introduction of the Mentat Bashar, Miles Teg rekindled my interest. Yes, he, Siona and soon to be mother superior Darwi Odrade are all still Atreides and still obsessed with the nightmare of becoming another Kwisatz Haderach or Tyrant, but the invasion by the Honoured Matres, the antithesis of the Bene Gesserit, injects some well needed action and jeopardy into the cycle. Throw in the Tlielaxu revelations and these later Dune works become quite exciting indeed. The universe really does get torn apart, planets blasted, races brought to the edge of extinction. Though I had my reservations about the direction Herbert was going in I can say I'll probably give Hunters of Dune a go, when I'm finished with Chapterhouse! That involves me forgiving KJ Anderson and Herbert Jnr for the schlocky robot nonsense of the Legends of Dune cycle, not an easy thing for me to do. If only Herbert Snr had given us a little more insight into the workings of the Spacing Guild!

The Memory of Whiteness, got a little bogged down in musicology and 10 dimensional quantum physics somewhere about 150 pages in. Kim Stanley Robinson's depiction of a human empire spread across the entire solar system, where even the moons of Uranus are made habitable by the presence of artificial stars called whitsuns, is pleasingly plausible. No FTL travel or communication, no aliens, no ray guns or inertia defying space fighters. Mature, classy SF, not unlike Iain Banks. But I find KSR's characterisation a little spartan. I've never really developed any attachment to any of his protagonists in the Mars series and as a result found it hard to imagine them beyond 2D stereotypes; dumpy Russian, fiery Frenchman, eccentric scientist, rangy American etc. Without being able to hold a satisfactory image of the characters in my mind's eye, I found the players overlapped and the plot got hard to follow. The emphasis on the ecological politics of terraforming in the Mars cycle is memorable though. I hadn't realised till now though that The Memory of Whiteness was written in 1985 a good six or seven years before Red Mars. Many of the themes that would later dominate the Martian epics pop up here. Though set centuries after the Mars trilogy (and never intended to be part of any chronology) as the Great Tour comes to Mars to play a monster gig to 4 million martians on the terraces of Olympus Mons during the Great Areology celebrations, KSR introduces the now familiar democratic debate between the Reds and the Greens and the struggle for Mars to be free of Earth's ancient authority. Great stuff...if only there wasn't so much of the hard going musicology!

Friday, 27 June 2008

A Beginning is a Very Delicate Time

Hi, I'm MelloBiafra, thanks for looking in on my blog. To be honest, I'm not much of a blogger as anyone who's read my previous attempts will realise! But I'm gonna give it another go.

All I'm really hope to do here is a give you an idea what I'm playing, listening to and reading. I'm a huge SF fan. I'd like to think that after almost three decades of fandom I might know a little bit about the genre. If you stay with me and check in now and again I hope, that if nothing else, you might get a recommendation or two from what I'm into and maybe discover a gem.


I'm reading some fairly mainstream stuff at the minute, having a little more time on my hands at the minute to trawl through some of the more heavyweight books that I've had kicking about on my bookshelves for a while waiting an opportune moment.

I'm primarily reading the Helliconia Trilogy by Brian Aldiss.

This was a book I've had for over a decade and made many starts on, but never seemed to be able to persist with beyond the first few hundred pages. I picked it up and decided to go at it again from the start and this time for some reason I just seem to be in a much better mind-set to appreciate it. It's superb and certainly a vision of an ecosystem that is far superior even to the Arrakis of the Dune cycles.
I've just finished Helliconia Spring but I am taking a break to finish a couple of other books I've had on the go before I get back into Helliconia Summer.
The books that I need to finish next will be The Memory of Whiteness by Kim Stanley Robinson and Chapterhouse Dune by Frank Herbert. I'm a little over halfway through with both. I'm enjoying Chapterhouse immensely, having gone through a major non-dune Herbert reading phase recently. I've been a huge fan of the Dune series since I was about 12, though shamefully I hadn't read any of the later books in the cycle. I thought things got a little repetitive and laborious to follow in God Emperor of Dune and I'd lost interest. I'd then read all Brian Herbert's Legends of Dune and whilst not a patch on the original cycle, I did enjoy them. As there are some recent releases to the traditional Dune Cycle, I decided to have another go at the later books in the original sequence. I'm enjoying them immensely this time.

Kim Stanley Robinson's The Memory of Whiteness is an odd tale and got a little bit dull midway and I abandoned it a few monthes ago. However coming across my copy recently I was suprised how much of it had stuck with me and that I really was curious to discover what happen in the end. So I'm gonna finish it. I've read Red Mars and Blue Mars and while you have to admire KSR's technical ability and the refreshing hard SF plausiblity of that series, I wouldn't be killing myself to finish the series, though for the sake of completeness I probably will.


I've just finished Star Wars: Republic Commando.

Very linear and a little dated by today's standards, but still very enjoyable. One of the best Star Wars franchise games I've ever played. Also the first computer game I have ever completely finished in my life! Yayyy!

Currently I'm Enjoying

Got myself a decent new graphics card for my PC and a copy of Bioshock to finally see if the hype was justified. So far it is...but then I'm only on the second level!

I love the concept of the X games as I am one of the generation of original players of the classic Elite (on the Spectrum.) I hoped to recapture a little of that open-ended, space trading, life sapping, total submersion with the original X2, but having sorted various technical issues, found it frustrating and a little shallow. X3 is extremely similar, but the new graphics card sure does make it superficially attractive. But almost impossible to get anywhere in it without having to resort to walkthroughs. I will persist for a while yet though.

Wednesday, 14 February 2007

More Apologies

Apologies to everyone who has been checking in! 
I've been all busted up at work! 
Check out my cool new shows later in February though! 
BBC 2! None of your YouTube nonsense here! 
I am getting back on the case I promise!
Things should be settling down shortly.
Hopefully I'll be able to find the time finally to tell you all about
my recent travels in the land of Linux
and the dangers of reading dodgy "Tripods" novels.


However the moral of today's blog  is-

"Don't Use the Opera browser to try and do anything useful!
It sucks! Manual Line-breaks?
Are Amstrads coming back into fashion?

Tuesday, 23 January 2007

At last...the MDC!

Apologies to everybody who has been checking in on this site (in particular Mr Skinner!) for the delay in finally getting this blog up and running. As I will probably have as my epitaph - I've been rather busy! I took my previous "Lives and Times of Jerry Cornelius" blog down as it was - how should I put it - potentially copyright infringing. Though I have very little respect for the legalities of copyright (wanna buy an unofficial I Love allofmp3.com T-shirt?!) I do have too much respect for Michael Moorcock - creator of Jerry Cornelius, but also Elric, Hawkmoon, Corum and the many heroes of the Eternal Champion series.

Equally I didn't want people thinking that I thought I was some kind of deluded, needle-gun toting, bisexual, nomad of the time-streams!

Which indirectly leads to what this blog and sister web-site www.multideathcorporation.com will be about. Primarily my two great loves in life - Geeking with technology in an unashamedly pointy-headed and beany-wearing kind of way and Science Fiction in all its noble and amateurishly debased forms.

Apologies if this isn't a gritty, rapid response to crucial issues, laced with scathing satire and incisive analysis of the things-that-really-matter. I leave that to those that do it well, e.g. Skin Flicks and to the Hax (MDC code for lazy cyber-journalists who'd rather regurgitate global, celebrity drivel, than file 50 words of real copy on the injustice outside their door) that don't.

But the twin topics of Technophilia and Sci-Fi affords plenty of scope for sedition . On a planet bulging with e-tards struggling with their portable stereos and reading Angel novelisations, where the deluded think they can complete a tax return or self-diagnose an illness, using a horrendously expensive and broken government site - could it be otherwise?

Expect bad speeling, inane technoprattle, gushing praise for bad Cy-Fi and humiliating demonstrations of my total inability to play computer games.

I hope you enjoy!


CEO MultiDeathCorporation

Wednesday, 10 January 2007


Welcome to the multideathcorporation.com Blog