Sunday, March 13, 2016

What I'm currently reading: A Darker Shade of Magic (V.E. Schwab) and Saturn Run (John Sandford and Ctein)

Because reading two books at the same time is oddly effective for me.

(via Macmillan)

Kell is one of the last Travelers-magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes, connected by one magical city.
There's Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, and with one mad king-George III. Red London, where life and magic are revered-and where Kell was raised alongside Rhys Maresh, the roguish heir to a flourishing empire. White London-a place where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London. But no one speaks of that now.
Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, ambassador of the Maresh empire, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they'll never see. It's a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.
Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.
Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they'll first need to stay alive.
I'm about halfway through this book and it makes me a bit sad because I'm halfway done and I don't want the story to end. A Darker Shade of Magic is an amazing book that hooked me from the get-go and hasn't relented since. I'm disappointed that Red London isn't a real place I can go to and that I'm not Antari either, dammit!

(via Penguin)

The year is 2066. A Caltech intern inadvertently notices an anomaly from a space telescope—something is approaching Saturn, and decelerating. Space objects don’t decelerate. Spaceships do.

A flurry of top-level government meetings produces the inescapable conclusion: Whatever built that ship is at least one hundred years ahead in hard and soft technology, and whoever can get their hands on it exclusively and bring it back will have an advantage so large, no other nation can compete. A conclusion the Chinese definitely agree with when they find out.

The race is on, and an remarkable adventure begins—an epic tale of courage, treachery, resourcefulness, secrets, surprises, and astonishing human and technological discovery, as the members of a hastily thrown-together crew find their strength and wits tested against adversaries both of this earth and beyond. What happens is nothing like you expect—and everything you could want from one of the world’s greatest masters of suspense.
This is a book I've seen at the library twice and decided to check it out because I really like this vein of hard sci-fi where humans have to push themselves to the limit technologically. That's why I want to read The Martian, Red Mars, and Seveneves this year and the next. In this case, an alien starship hanging out around Saturn forces humanity (in this case, the U.S. and China. No idea about the rest of the world because I haven't gotten that far yet) to push itself beyond what they've done before: travel to the outer planets. Oh no doubt that we'll do this in the real world eventually, but I would be surprised if it happened within my lifetime or even in this century.

One of the things I like about this story is the conversion of a space station (apparently the U.S. has its own in 2066) into a ship. I thought that was pretty clever, given that the U.S. doesn't have time to build a ship from scratch.

I'm focusing on A Darker Shade of Magic right now, then switching it to Saturn Run as soon as I'm finished. After that, I might pay Wallander or Rebus another visit. Once I'm finished with Saturn Run, I'm going to keep on going with sci-fi and read either A King of Infinite Space (Allen Steele) or A Maze of Stars (John Brunner).

Friday, March 11, 2016

Captain America: Civil War trailer: Tom Holland's voice is going to take some getting used to

So I finally watched the newly released trailer for the next Captain America movie. Generally, I don't watch trailers because they just don't interest me (I'm not much of a movie-goer), but I saw a short clip from the trailer on Tumblr (yes, somebody clipped a trailer, welcome to the world of tomorrow) of Spider-Man relieving Cap of his shields and wanted to make sure it was legit, since the clip didn't show Spidey himself.



I liked the trailer overall, but Tom Holland's voice just bugged me. I grok that he's playing a teenage Spidey and I'm all for that, but Holland is 19 years old according to Google but sounds like he's barely a teenager. I don't know, I'm probably biased because of the Raimi movies or I'm used to Spider-Man being played by older actors. This was the first time I've ever heard the guy's voice, so it might just take some getting used to.

There's a bit at the beginning of the trailer where what's-his-face is going through all the destruction caused in Avengers, The Winter Soldier, and Age of Ultron and when they get the latter, you see Wanda look down in shame. Steve sees her reaction and tells the guy "Okay, that's enough." This is what I like about Steve and what the movies have gotten so right about his character. The Avengers are more than a team to him. He cares about them and isn't going to let Wanda be guilt-tripped by some douche in a suit.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Off Topic Tuesday #6: Devolved English Parliament?

First thing first, I should note that I'm not British, but just an American who gets interested in these kinds of things. So with that said, take this post with a grain or two of salt.

One of the things that's caught my attention is the debate over whether England should have its own parliament. Currently Scotland, Wales, and I believe Northern Ireland all have their own devolved assemblies. What's a devolved assembly? The best way I can explain it is to compare it to how states function in America. Each has its own government that sits below the Federal government. Each state can set their own economic policies, laws (provided that they don't conflict with the Constitution and Federal laws), and their own defense (in the form of a national guard and a state defense force), while the Fed handles affairs on the national level. In the United Kingdom, the devolved governments of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland work the same way, with the British Parliament having primacy over things that effect the entire kingdom.

Except there's a bit of a problem. More of an elephant that's quietly sitting in the room, waiting for someone to address it, really. The problem is that the biggest member of the United Kingdom, England, doesn't have its own devolved government. Like I said at the beginning of this post, I'm American, so I'm pretty well lost on why it doesn't have its own government. It's just odd that only three out of the five members (I'm counting Cornwall as separate because YOLO) do and the other two don't. In fact, this has led to one dilly of a pickle when it comes to the UK Parliament voting on laws. It's called the West Lothian Question and pertains to whether or not the rest of the UK should vote on bills that will effect England only and not the others. Personally, I don't think MPs from Wales, Scotland, or Northern Ireland should be able to vote on bills effecting England anymore than legislators from West Virginia should be able to vote on bills in Montana. At the same time, barring those same MPs from being able to vote on a bill just because of that doesn't seem write either.


So with that in mind, it makes sense to create an English Parliament and grant it the same powers and authority that the other devolved assemblies have and with its own First Minister. Similarly, Cornwall should get its own assembly as well, since it's a distinct region like all of the others. Gotta be fair, after all.

I also think that if England does get its own government, it shouldn't be located in London. I know that that would be the most obvious no-brainer choice for capitals, but having London be both the seat for the British Parliament and the devolved English Parliament just doesn't sit right. A single city, no matter how ground, can play host to two capitals. So I'd say put it somewhere away from London, pick one of the many other cities of England, like Liverpool, Manchester, etc. I'd imagine that there would be a nice economic benefit to this idea too, a shot in the arm for whichever city and whatever part of the country gets to play host to the new government. I mean, a new parliament building would have to be designed and built, which creates jobs. It could also attract businesses to the area, which just means more cash flowing through and I don't think many people would object to that.

Of course, there's a downside here: racists. Unfortunately, the idea of a Parliament of England has attracted the worst element that every country has, and this particular breed sees the debate as a chance to establish some sort of "English-only" utopia and as you can surmise, their view of "Englishness" is ethnic in scope, i.e. whites only. This, I imagine, is probably hurting the movement to create an English government more than it's helping, but those people are too dimwitted to recognize that. Ethnic nationalism is stupid.

So what do you think? Should England and Cornwall get their own devolved governments? Let me know in the comments below.

An important note concerning Iron Monday

So apparently Marvel Comics at some point renumbered all of the Iron Man armors and now consider the Golden Avenger and Hulkbuster to be variants of the Mark I and Modular Armor, respectively. So pretty much, my numbering of the armors has been off up until today when I did that belated Iron Monday about the original red and gold armor. It's not a huge deal, but it does mean that I have to go back and fix the numbering on the first four posts.

Like I said, not a big deal but I thought it was worth pointing out.

Iron Monday #5: the original red and gold

Well, a belated Iron Monday, at least! Sorry for not posting one last week, but things can get hectic in real life. So this week I decided to go with the first Iron Man armor to feature the red and gold color scheme.


First appearing in Tales of Suspense #48, this armor was created after Tony nearly died after his first encounter with Mr. Doll, a supervillain who could create voodoo dolls out of clay. His attack on Iron Man caused the golden avenger to fall into the ocean while in excruciating pain and he barely lived to fight another day. In response, Tony decided to ditch the Mark I in favor of a newer and better armor.

As you can see, the biggest difference is the size. The Mark II was much slimmer and lighter looking than its predecessors and that was to solve a major problem that they both had: power consumption. Both of the previous armors were energy hogs that required large amounts of power just to move and function under their own bulky weight. This was a fairly big concern when you factor in the pacemaker that kept Stark's heart going. The more power the armor required to function meant less power for the pacemaker and considering that those requirements increased as the armors were put under greater stresses, it was not an ideal situation. This also put a strain on Stark's already weak heart and it probably would have killed him if he hadn't switched to a new suit.


So how light was the new armor? Well, the chest piece is described as being "wafer-thin", which I'm guessing is pretty damn thin. Similarly, the helmet was thinner and lighter (Tony claiming that he could barely even feel it), and the jets located in the boots were only an inch, much smaller than the ones found in the first two armors. The face plate of the helmet was also designed to allow more of Stark's facial expressions show through, which he believed would have a psychological effect on his enemies. The reduction in weight allowed allowed Stark to add more equipment to the new suit, such as a radio with an antenna attached to the left shoulder. That's actually one of my favorite things about the armor because it gives it even more of a sci-fi feel.

Another thing Tony Stark made sure to add was more power. While the Mark II wasn't an energy hog like his previous armors that didn't mean that he was going to slouch on that particular area. The arm and leg cuffs contained separate power units that he could use if the main power supply went kaput. He would later add power pods on the hips as an additional power sources.

The major feature of the new armor was how fast it took to "suit up". With the prior armors, it took like three minutes for Stark to put on all the component pieces, whereas the new armor took seconds. The aforementioned cuffs contained the gold parts of the armor, which were magnetically drawn to the shoulders and hips, respectively. The jets were separate units that Stark merely had to step hard into (like how a skier steps into those clamps on their skies) and that activated the covering for the boots.
On a minor note, the helmet had three variants. The original's face-plate had a horned look to it, which was later replaced in issue #54 by rivets that outlined the face and removed the horns (making the helmet and face-plate look more integrated). The third version was pretty much just the second version, sans-rivets. I like the riveted version, it gave the armor an "industrial" look about it.

This armor would last until 1965, when it was replaced in Tales of Suspense #66 by the Mark III.

Pictures from Marvel Database.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Another book haul

And a modest one at that.

This illustrates why thrift stores aren't always the ideal place to find used books. I bought The Kite Runner and Jude the Obscure at one Goodwill and The Killer Angels and 1972 at another. The second store was where I bought close to six books late last month and that well dried up real quick.

On the other hand, the first Goodwill I went to had three or four shelves of western paperbacks. If I was a fan of that genre, I'd have been in happier than a hog in a mud puddle. Alas, the prairie doesn't call to me.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

B-B-B-Book haul *blasts air horns*

Decided to go out and do some used book shopping yesterday and I came back with a nice load.

Click to embiggen.
If you can't read the titles, here's the list:

Suite Francaise - Irene Nemirovsky
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
A Room With a View - E.M. Forster
The Princess Bride - William Goldman
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane - Katherine Howe
The Art of Fielding - Chad Harbach
Sarum - Edward Rutherford
The Eyre Affair - Jasper Fforde

The first three came from the used bookstore I mentioned in a previous post. My purchase of Jane Eyre is directly connected to having read The Eyre Affair, which compelled me to want to finally read the former. The rest of the books came from a Salvation Army store I was walking past on the way home. I almost didn't get any books until a closer look revealed The Princess Bride, The Eyre Affair, and the others. No idea how I missed them on the first pass, but it always pays to take a closer look. I just finished The Eyre Affair Friday night (post on that coming soon), but it was a library copy, so buying my own copy was a no-brainer.

I paid $13.28 total, which I don't think is too bad for eight books. No idea which of these I'm going to read first when I finally get around to them.

See anything you like?

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Off Topic Tuesday #5: Apple, security, and privacy

Unless you've been living under a rock lately, there's a big kerfuffle going on in America between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Apple over the iPhone belonging to the two gunmen behind last year's terror attack in San Bernardino. The issue is that the iPhone is encrypted and the FBI wants Apple to install a backdoor so that they can see if there's anything important in it. Apple is refusing to do it on grounds of security and the misuse by the FBI of some law from like 1789. This has led to a larger debate over privacy and security.

I understand both sides of the debate and they both have valid concerns. On one hand, that iPhone could very well contain valuable information about the attack, including who gave the terrorists the money to buy the guns used in the attack. On the other hand, this is pretty much the top of a slippery slope. If the FBI can force Apple to install a backdoor on its devices, then what's stopping them or any other law enforcement agency from doing the same with other companies? Indeed, there's talk of Congress passing legislation that would require all phones, tablets, and computers to have a backdoor in their software for law enforcement to use. Another problem with this is that if someone or a group were to find a way to exploit this backdoor, countless millions of people would be at risk for all sorts of threats and malicious actions.

It's certainly a dilly of a pickle. Do you surrender some privacy for the sake of security or do you preserve privacy but put national security at risk? Is there a way to balance the two to the best of satisfaction or will the scales always unbalanceable? I think it'll always be the last one. There's simply no way, in my opinion, to find a balance between privacy and security and it'll always tip back and forth between the two. The problem is that we want both, but at the same time are unwilling to surrender either. We hold privacy as one of the dearest things to our heart, but we want security too, to be protected from ill and harm. When the cost of that security starts to nibble away at privacy, however, we denounce the intrusion and push back as hard as we can.

Where do I stand on this? I'm leaning towards Apple's side. Like I said, I see both sides of the argument and their concerns are both valid. But this isn't a dire situation to warrant what the FBI wants Apple to do. If the attackers were part of a larger cell and there was a threat of another attack and that phone potentially contained information to prevent that attack, then yes the FBI's demands would be warranted. If the FBI had information that something like that was possible, then they would have pushed for Apple to install a backdoor sooner rather than later. This is just the FBI flipping over even the smallest pebble it can find in search for clues that might not even exist.

So what do you think? Should Apple give in to the FBI's request and install a backdoor? Should the government pass legislation requiring backdoors on all electronic devices? Does privacy trump security or vice versa? Let me know in the comments below.

Nominees for the 2015 Nebula Awards announced

I'm a bit late on this, but the Science Fiction Writers of America announced the nominees for the Nebula Awards last month and it's an interesting pack.
Novel

Raising Caine, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)
The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Grace of Kings, Ken Liu (Saga)
Uprooted, Naomi Novik (Del Rey)
Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard, Lawrence M. Schoen (Tor)
Updraft, Fran Wilde (Tor)

Novella

Wings of Sorrow and Bone, Beth Cato (Harper Voyager Impulse)
“The Bone Swans of Amandale,” C.S.E. Cooney (Bone Swans)
“The New Mother,” Eugene Fischer (Asimov’s 4-5/15)
“The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn,” Usman T. Malik (Tor.com 4/22/15)
Binti, Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com)
“Waters of Versailles,” Kelly Robson (Tor.com 6/10/15)

Novelette

“Rattlesnakes and Men,” Michael Bishop (Asimov’s 2/15)
“And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead,” Brooke Bolander (Lightspeed 2/15)
“Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds,” Rose Lemberg (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 6/11/15)
“The Ladies’ Aquatic Gardening Society,” Henry Lien (Asimov’s 6/15)
“The Deepwater Bride,” Tamsyn Muir (F&SF 7-8/15)
“Our Lady of the Open Road,” Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s 6/15)
Short Story
“Madeleine,” Amal El-Mohtar (Lightspeed 6/15)
“Cat Pictures Please,” Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld 1/15)
“Damage,” David D. Levine (Tor.com 1/21/15)
“When Your Child Strays From God,” Sam J. Miller (Clarkesworld 7/15)
“Today I Am Paul,” Martin L. Shoemaker (Clarkesworld 8/15)
“Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers,” Alyssa Wong (Nightmare 10/15)

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation

Ex Machina, Written by Alex Garland
Inside Out, Screenplay by Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley; Original Story by Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen
Jessica Jones: AKA Smile, Teleplay by Scott Reynolds & Melissa Rosenberg; Story by Jamie King & Scott Reynolds
Mad Max: Fury Road, Written by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris
The Martian, Screenplay by Drew Goddard
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Written by Lawrence Kasdan & J.J. Abrams and Michael Arndt

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy

Seriously Wicked, Tina Connolly (Tor Teen)
Court of Fives, Kate Elliott (Little, Brown)
Cuckoo Song, Frances Hardinge (Macmillan UK 5/14; Amulet)
Archivist Wasp, Nicole Kornher-Stace (Big Mouth House)
Zeroboxer, Fonda Lee (Flux)
Shadowshaper, Daniel José Older (Levine)
Bone Gap, Laura Ruby (Balzer + Bray)
Nimona, Noelle Stevenson (HarperTeen)
Updraft, Fran Wilde (Tor)
Fortunately, the Nebulas can't be hijacked like the Hugo Awards were last year, so everybody will have a chance at actually winning an award rather than being denied because some people decide to be jerks.

March Icon of the Month: Geordi La Forge

As I said back when I first talk about doing this Icon of the Month feature, the people I'd choose weren't restricted to just women, but would include men, and fictional characters. So with that in mind, I decided to choose a fictional character and one of my favorites from Trek, Geordi La Forge, Chief Engineer of the Enterprise-D and E.

Whereas Scotty is the favorite of many Trekkies, Geordi is mine. Don't get me wrong, I love Scotty, but TNG was the first Star Trek series I watched and so I was exposed to Geordi before Scotty.

One of the things I like about Geordi is that he was both disabled and not treated differently at the same time. Typically, TV shows at the time would treat disabled characters as tools to send a "message" to the audience about how people with disabilities shouldn't be treated as defective or as different from able-bodied people. The fact that these shows would do this with "very special episodes" that treated disabled characters as being different was overlooked by the writers and producers. But on TNG, Geordi was given equal treatment. He was expected to do his job and was held to the same high standards as anybody onboard the Enterprise. But his disability wasn't ignored either and it was discussed in several episodes. It was just a part of his life.

His friendship with Data is one of my favorite things ever. I love how they rely on each other. If one had a problem, they would go to the other for advice. I think their relationship could be described as siblings. Geordi was an only child and Data's brothers were a psychopath and Windows 2000 with limbs, so they both found a companionship that they never had before.

There's an episode of TNG called The Most Toys where this asshole kidnaps and fakes Data's death so that he could add the android to his personal collection of stuff. Geordi is the only one who refuses to accept that Data died in a shuttle accident and eventually proves that he didn't. Meanwhile, in the movie Generations, Data is wrought with guilt and shame after Geordi is kidnapped by the baddies. He blames himself and while the emotion chip he had installed earlier in the movie was obviously hyping up his emotions, they were still there.


Like I wasn't going to add this picture.
All pictures from Memory Alpha.

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