C. G. McGinn

Writer

Ramblings about Books and Writing

Filtering by Tag: scifi

Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio

I’ve read a lot of great books lately and have done little to tell you about them. I’m going to start with the last book I finished and work my way backwards. By the time I get to Neil Gaiman’s, The Graveyard Book, I’ll probably sum it up with one line, two words: It’s good.

Empire of Silence might as well take place in the Warhammer 40K universe, if 40K had a sex drive, and passion beyond the whole ‘grim darkness of war’ bullshit.

Heresy.jpg

Empire of Silence has a libido. It’s grown a pair, yet remains grim and dark and veering on the brink of war. There’s depth to the characters, a heretic-seeking clergy, noble houses of every shape and color, palace intrigue, gladiatorial events, xenocide.

It’s science fiction that often feels like high fantasy.

Marlowe is an arrogant sheltered protagonist that ultimately finds humility from his experiences outside of palace life. Don’t get me wrong, he still maintains his prickish mannerisms, but he’s seen some shit—he becomes: dynamic.

It’s the first book in the series. The next book, according to the all-knowing Amazon isn’t due out until July, so you have some time. It’s a long read, but Samuel Roukin’s performance in the audio version is amazing, bitter, and yet—soothing, like a dry bottle of wine, or a kick in the teeth.

Sea of Rust by Robert Cargill

The premise for Sea of Rust is the backstory/explanation that Morpheus gives Neo when he first asks about the Matrix. The long and short being: We went to war with AI of our own creation, they were faster, better, smarter than us, and royally kicks our sorry fleshy asses into near-extinction. Where Sea of Rust differs from The Matrix is that Sea of Rust goes all the way--the machines not only win the war, but they literally kill every single man, woman and child on the earth, leaving robot-kind in charge of the planet.

Let that sink in for a minute. Only we arrogant humans would assume that we'd be needed to power the machines--living a simulated life in a virtual world, hooked up as a giant battery. 

Sea of Rust is probably a great deal closer to a real life AI vs Humans scenario then anything currently out there in both books and movies.

And there are no punches being pulled here. There are moments in this book that were very hard to take. Movies will show scenes of able-bodied men being killed by antagonist or protagonist, and the audience will watch and accept this without disgust or resentment. We've grown so used to the James Bond henchman, that these faceless masses might as well be machines.

But have a robot kill a child, or a baby?

Sea of Rust pulls no punches.

In the midst of these rather squeamish scenes--necessary scenes in order to tell an effective story--I greatly enjoyed this book. The main character was truly a product created by man. Her calculating and cold outlook on life was the soul of a machine, and yet she experienced something of a moral conflict within herself as humans often do.

This is a story about AI where the robots do not feel boxy and soulless. This is AI with heart.

 

 

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Flowers for Algernon was a book I first read in sixth or seventh grade.

That was back in the 90's. I looked something like this:

No, more like this:

180px-Doug_Funnie.jpg

The book takes place in the in a pre-Rudy Giuliani New York City. Though it's aged well.

Flowers for Algernon is the story about Charlie Gordon, an intellectually disabled adult with an IQ below 70. He's chosen to be part of a surgical experiment that turns him into a genius. The book is written in the first person in a series of Progress Reports, beginning before the experiment. His pre-surgery reports are spelled phonetically and without punctuation. Sentences are short and simple. Post-surgery the reader literally sees Charlie learn how to spell, use punctuation both improperly--then correctly, and his thoughts and experiences become more and more complex.

This time around I listened to the audio version. I was curious to see, or rather, hear the difference. The reader did a great job, changing his voice from childlike to something more adult as Charlie's intelligence increased. However I did feel that a certain depth to the story was lost by not physically seeing his progression in spelling and sentence structure. I recommend that people read the book first, then listen to the audio version.

Flowers for Algernon, Brave New World, and 1984 are part of the holy trinity of classic science fiction that have had a lasting influence on me. I can remember very clearly where I was when I was reading these books. Flowers for Algernon--English class in 6th or 7th grade. 1984--Summertime, sometime before 9th Grade, on my screened-in porch. Brave New World--Freshmen English--I sat in the back of the classroom like all the 'cool kids'.

I've since re-read Brave New World and Flowers for Algernon and have discovered things that I'd either forgotten or missed the first time around, during those heady and awkward years that don't contrast as sharply as I'd care to admit to this thing called adulthood.

I'll probably read 1984 soon and finish up the trifecta. 

Lock In by John Scalzi

Lock In by John Scalzi is a story of a large segment of the world's population succumbing to a paralysis invoking flu, leaving their minds completely intact. Technology moves in and gives these people robotic bodies in order for them to continue contributing to society. In the midst of all this a great detective story unfolds involving two FBI agents, one of them, a flu suffer--equipped in their robot body--the other, flesh and blood. The story is told in the first-person from the POV of the robotic-human FBI agent.

Lock In blurs the lines of gender. I would normally roll my eyes at this as a form of pandering to what it currently a hot-button issue in society. But the subtly in which Scalzi does this is very good. The reader is never given any hints if the protagonist is male or female. The plot doesn't hinge on their sexuality and it's never brought up. The fact that this character is piloting what I imagine to be a very androgynous--albeit humanoid vehicle--sets the stage for a neutral being for both male and female characters to interact with. Does it border on the fringes of a Progressive Utopian fantasy? Maybe. But it isn't preachy or heavy-handed. 

The audio book was recorded by both a male and female readers, adding an interactive element to your reading experience. In my opinion, it's a no-brainer as to which version is the superior read. Amber Bensen is the female reader and she does a sensational job.

I did not, nor will I ever, read the male version of Lock In, as Wil Wheaton is the reader, and he has lost all credibility as a reader of so much as the Dictionary after what he did to Masters of Doom. Unforgivable, bordering on shameful.

Lock In reminded me of the novels by J.D. Robb...just without the sex. One might argue that this would be a setback. I guess it all depends on what your cup o' tea happens to be. The world of Lock In is much more believable then Robb's fantastical sci-fi universe. Scalzi's human piloted androids are not super-human, and there is no robot/human uprising. The story stays within the boundaries of a detective-style who-done-it, in the not so distant sci-fi future. 

 

The Passage Trilogy

If you're looking for a different kind of horror story, then I recommend, The Passage, by Justin Cronin. It's a novel about vampires, but it's unlike anything pertaining to vampires that you've ever read before. This isn't Bram Stoker and this certainly isn't Ann Rice. And though there is a supernatural element to the story, it surprisingly doesn't have anything to do with the traditional vampire mythos.

The Passage uses science fiction as a sub-genre quite well One example was how the vampires, or 'virals' are brought into this world--through a secret military project conducted on American soil. It's very much like the start of a good Resident Evil game, complete with things going horribly, horribly wrong.

But there's more to The Passage than vampires. Cronin is at his best with the development of both his characters and the world he's created for them. This is a world that pokes at the edges of our own--albeit, a world that has seen better days. Hurricane Katrina has happened in Cronin's world, and it was quickly followed-up by a second hurricane that left the Louisiana coast all but uninhabitable. The children of our current politicians are now running the show, and doing just about as well as their predecessors. These details give the reader a sense of inclusion, which make the unfolding events much more horrifying.

Characters are expendable, but not in the way George RR Martin would carelessly kill-off someone. There's an actual sense of life to Cronin's characters. It's almost as if the story were a simulation of life happening during this horrible event, yet there is still room for heroes to emerge.

The Passage by itself is an epic book. There's a lot in here and it's well worth reading. It's also the first in a trilogy. The Twelve and The City of Mirrors continue the journey where The Passage left us. I really enjoyed getting lost in this world--though at times it proved to be quite sad, and often frustrating. By the end I was left with a peaceful sense of closure.

I added The Passage to the Reading List section of this website, though I could very easily put the entire trilogy in there. I'm just too lazy to spend that much time web designing.

Speaking of the Reading List, go check it out. It's like a blog post, only much much shorter. These are all books I've read and have covered in the blog. But unlike the blog, these are books that stand out as true favorites of mine. I've included the synopsis from Amazon and my own thoughts on the book. If you're interested in buying the book, simply click on the book cover and you'll be magically whisked away to Amazon--or the amazon...I can't remember which. Doing so will also help support this very website.

All-Time Best Books or All-Time (in my opinion)

Ok. Been away for a little while. I didn't leave town or anything. Just couldn't write. Anyone who works with me will tell you that the first two weeks of school are probably the most difficult. There are no winners, people! Whether you're a teacher, a janitor, or a lowly member of the IT Department, you're pretty much going to double-down on a Marine Corps Hell Week. This year was unusually rough compared to other years. 

On top of that, my last post left a rather unflattering image of a seething Comic Book Guy and perhaps alienated the geeks in the audience. To this I say, "Nerds, my people, lend me your ears! For I do not loath all of you! I merely ask that you relax when it comes to the things you're passionate about. Life's too short. "


Anyway, down to the meat of it.  

Had a great conversation about books with a coworker today. Her daughter is currently reading Misery by Stephen King and it sent me back to when I was a young impressionable 13 or 14 year old, when I brought The Stand, another awesome book by King, to youth group and got an ear-full from the youth pastor. I read a lot of King back then. The Stand is probably my favorite of his work, but The Dark Tower Series comes in a close second. If I were to group Stephen King books in order of CGMcGinn awesomeness, it would go like this:  

1. The Stand

2. The Gunslinger (Book 1 in the Dark Tower series, duh.)

3. The Wasteland (which is book 3 in the Drk. Twr. series) 

4. The Green Mile (I read it first in a serialized form and had to wait each month for a new section of it to come out. The suspense that came from waiting was insane). 

5. Wizard and Glass (Drk Twr. 4)

6. 11/22/63

7. The Shining

8. Cell

That's just books by King. You have to be in a Stephen King mood though, to read Stephen King. The Stand gave me crazy nightmares when I read it. I think if I read nothing but Steven King, I'd probably have the same feelings I have toward George RR Martin's "Game of Thrones" books.

And while we're on the subject, A Game of Thrones is definitely on my list of great reads. All the well written prose, the suspense and surprises, and character development found through the entire series can be captured in his first book. A Game of Thrones really could stand on it's own. Everyone should read the first book. They can probably skip the rest if it isn't their cup 'o tea. I can sum up the rest of the series by saying that, a lot of shit happens, a lot of people get the shit end of the stick, and a lot of people, good and bad die. 

Favorite "Sci-fi/Cyber-Punk series about a dystopian future where people live in cramped squalor, and hackers travel through cyberspace hacking a ruling class of corporations, gangsters, and artificial intelligence demigods".  Obviously it's William Gibson's Neromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive. If you have not read these books then you are a sad and pathetic individual and should feel the shame I am sending through the interwebs directly to you, yes you...sitting there, waiting for a hotpocket to finish in the microwave. I see you. You disgust me! You also need to read Neromancer and all shall be forgiven.

Fav 'hard' sci-fi would be Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. I have a feeling that Ender's Game is on a lot of peoples lists. It's sort of a big deal. 

Other books that are kind of a big deal and should be read are: 

1984

A Brave New World

Flowers for Algernon

Philip K Dick wrote a lot of stories and books that became big movies that you've probably seen. He wrote Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, Paycheck, and more recently, The Adjustment Bureau, (just to name a few). Another book that he wrote that also became a movie, though it did not receive the critical acclaim as Blade Runner and Minority Report, was A Scanner Darkly. Keanu Reeves stared in the movie version, (not the book), along with a drugged-out Robert Downey Jr. (who probably wasn't acting at the time). I enjoyed the movie and I absolutely LOVED the book. Dick was heavily influenced by the drug culture of the 1970s and A Scanner Darkly was a unique look at an interesting fusion between the culture and science fiction. 

This is running long, so I'll end with Kurt Vonnegut Jr's "Cat's Cradle" and "Slaughterhouse 5", as well as "Breakfast of Champions, " which was adapted into a horrible movie starring Moonlighting's, Bruce Willis.

I'm sure I missed a lot of other great reads that are also in the collection. Should a discussing happen to occur below, I'll probably share more.  

 

Story Update and Theorycraft

I'm going to be digging through a lot of older material that I've had for the purposes of growing mold and collecting dust. I'm going to start going over these pieces, publishing them here and seeing what works for the current project on dreams.

I've started with a short little title called Outer Heaven. I think this was originally going to be straight-up fan fiction for The Matrix. But I'm going to retcon it into fitting with the dream story. What begins as the description of the interior of what can only be a hovercraft, left in the context of the Matrix universe, will be 'modified' to fit the current dream theme.

How will this be done?

Just as Ariel is still learning how to navigate the realm of dream, from a series of geographic safe havens, (the coffee shop, the park, and the crawlspace). There are others who have moved beyond these fixed points in the dream-sphere in a similar manner as those early explorers who traveled the high seas. In a tangible realm where the predictable nature of things like gravity, how things float in water, wind being used as a means of propulsion, etc. etc. etc... the means of travel is far simpler when compared to a realm, like the dream-sphere, which has a system of very flexible rules that are in a constant state of change, manipulation and, at times, utter chaos. 

I ramble like this to simply say that traveling the dream in the manner that Ariel has done, (moving from place to place by mere thought) is a simple way for a person to travel between locations within the realm, that they have been given full access to, that have been established by another dreamer. This method of travel is made possible by the creator of the dream-space. In the case of the coffee shop, the creator is Severus. Ariel is the creator of the crawlspace. The park was first created by Severus, but he has allowed others to make their own mark on a work that he originally began. Could a selfish individual build a wall around the park and prevent others from entering? Yes. But Severus, or anyone else could just as easily demolish the wall. This is because places like the coffee shop and park were designed to follow the rules established in the world outside of the dream. Where these rules end exist on the boarders of such places, which is why one can travel to and from them by thought and thought alone.

The unexplored reaches, and the places where their creators have not meant for strangers to find, are only able to be found by creating a means to explore the vast glue that holds all of these realms together. This is the outer space of the dreamworld. Where a place like the coffee shop would be considered its own planet, the stuff beyond its borders is a chaotic space that one cannot simply walk, float or swim through. 

So in order to get from Point A to Point B within the space, a mobile reality must be created. This is very similar, in theory, to how Severus created the coffee shop and its surrounding city, with the one exception being that this smaller place must be both mobile and equipped with a means to change with the ever-changing outside environment. The ship cannot simply be a structure of steel or some other solid material one would make a craft out of. It has to have the ability to change with the space around it. Such travel can be dangerous, especially to areas of space that have not yet been explored. The space changes and therefore the ship must be ready for the type of change that will occur.

For explored space, modern vessels are fitted with a Predictability Matrix, a remarkably fast computer that is able to modify the ship in order to continue to exist within space. Assuming the Matrix is functioning correctly, the person inside the ship, does not notices these changes to reality that are constantly going on outside.

Unfortunately, standard Predictability Matrix's can only account for what they know. Any new variants to the dream-space can cause the matrix to find faults and errors, which will compromise the ship and expose its occupants to the outside chaos.

Yet all is not lost. Some vessels have been fitted with a hacked version of the standard matrix known as an APM, (the 'A' is for Anticipatory. I'll let you figure out the rest). This type of matrix is able to adapt to the changes in space and create new subroutines in order to keep the ships reality consistent. However such a system is not without faults, and its major fault is that despite the APMs ability to account for new variants, the chaos outside is able to leak through the integrity of the ship. Keep in mind, that this is at a much slower rate than a ship not fitted with a APM. Therefore the occupants of this type of ship will be prone to hallucinations and anomalies that can be strange, unsettling and dangerous. For this very reason, ships that carry an APM and travel into the vast and unaccountable void of the dream-space are known as Ghost Ships, and are captained by only the bravest or insane souls.

What was added in the story section is the tale of ghost ship Outer Heaven and what has or had befallen its crew. More to be added soon.