Another creature that channels the Triffids and similar revenge of nature horrors of the mid 20th Century. A Puppeteer is a parasite that slips through from another dimension. The infected seek out further victims, and they all get tangled up in a shambling, deadly bush.
This year’s Hugo award winner. All the shenanigans around the awards has, at least, got me reading some more sci-fi.
Starting with China’s Cultural Revolution, the story initially follows a woman’s progress as she sees her father killed for failing to renounce his scientific discipline. She is also a theoretical scientist, a career now barred to her through association. Through a series of political missteps, she ends up finding herself assigned to a secret radio telescope project at Red Coast Base, where they want to use her knowledge, even though they don’t trust her. As the story unfolds, we find out what happened to her at the base, and how her actions there affect Earth’s place in the universe.
The story unfolds as a mystery in the present day, with flashbacks to events at Red Coast Base until just what happened, and the danger it has put the world in, is revealed.
There’s a lot of telling, rather than showing, going on, and many of the conversations feel stilted. I don’t know if this is a fair representation of the structuring of Chinese novels, or if the translation couldn’t do the original justice. Having said which, the story drew me in and pulled me along with it. At no point did the drawbacks of the language put me off.
After following the silliness around the Hugo awards this year, I thought I’d read one of the books that all the fuss was about.
Ancillary Justice won the Hugo, and several other awards, last year, and is, supposedly, exactly the sort of thing that’s destroying good old, hairy chested science fiction. To hear the various Puppies tell it, this is one long feminist diatribe with no redeeming features and too few spaceships and rayguns. They must have been reading a different book.
This is intelligent space opera in the Iain M. Banks mould, with gigantic empires ranging against each other, but with individuals still able to make a difference.
The narrator is Breq, an artificial intelligence inhabiting a human body. She used to run a space ship and whole garrisons of ‘corpse soldiers’, but a betrayal has taken all of that away. As we follow her through the end of a twenty year quest for vengeance, the full details of the betrayal are also revealed.
I had some problems with the story arc of the main supporting character, but also got the impression that Breq wasn’t completely convinced by it either. Perhaps it’s something that will be explored in the rest of the trilogy.
The fault with the story, as far as the Puppies were concerned, was with the handling of gender. The culture that Breq is from doesn’t differentiate between the sexes. Everyone is referred to as her, or she. Not knowing who’s really a boy or a girl upsets certain types of fanboy, apparently. It’s a dumb thing to get so angry about, and I’ll take this sort of interesting feminism over yet another story dwelling upon fantasy white guys and the size of their guns.
Part 4 of Pickers is published on Saturday, finishing the serial. It’s the crazy action, big fight, obviously inspired by Mad Max 2 and Fury Road finale, and it was rather fun to write. If you’ve been putting off reading it until all four parts were released, then today’s a good day to get started on Part 1, and you should be caught up just in time.
Publishing it as a serial changed the shape of the story, and probably forced me to get it finished earlier than I would if I’d written it as a novel. There will be a revised ‘Director’s Cut’, full length novel version released some time after its Amazon exclusivity runs out, where I may change the pacing a bit to suit the new format. I don’t know if I’ll ever do a serial again, but I have got some ideas for a series of novella length tales, each self contained, but with recurring characters- the project after the one I’m currently working on.
Writing Pickers has made me think about the way I’ll build stories in the future. Other events that have been going on whilst I wrote it, have made me think again about the sort of tales I want to tell, and the characters I want to put in them. I’ve been watching the Sad Puppies, and reading a lot of commentary about them, and it’s made me change the people I write about.
You may not know who the Sad Puppies (and their friends, the Rabid Puppies) are, so I’ll attempt a quick explanation.
It’s one of those truisms, that science fiction is really about the present, not the future. Thoughtful SF has always included commentary on contemporary issues. Recently, those issues have included gender, race, sexuality and others that make certain types of reader uncomfortable. This ‘liberal crap’ is supposedly spoiling good old fashioned sci-fi, where square jawed white men rode around in phallic spaceships and rescued dizzy buxom blondes. The genre, they cry, has been subjugated to the will of ‘Social Justice Warriors’.
(They seem to think that saying someone is willing to fight for the rights of people other than themselves is an insult. That tells you almost everything you need to know about them.)
The Sad/Rabid Puppies decided they were going to save one of SF’s big awards, the Hugos, from the SJWs, by flooding the ballot with works they approved of, over ones by dirty women, foreigners and deviants. Long story short, the Hugo awards were announced on Saturday, and none of the Puppy approved works won. Somehow, they’re claiming this is a victory.
There’s a lot more detailed and knowledgeable writing on the whole farce, if you go looking for it (here’s Wired’s take).
As a writer, and a reader, I’m on the edges of SF fandom. But I’ve been following the Puppy saga (and the equally ridiculous and horrible Gamer Gate nonsense), and reading a lot of commentary on it. There’s a bias. The commentary almost all comes from the left, SJW side of the argument. Almost everything from the right, Puppy side slips into name calling and self pity quickly. I’ve learnt a lot, and I want to apply some of it to what I write. I want to be more inclusive in the characters I create and the subjects I cover. The Puppies have convinced me to let my inner SJW out.
In so many ways, Pickers is the sort of story that the Puppies say they want to champion. It’s a big, crazy adventure, where violence is far too often the answer. But it’s laden with all sort of things they’d hate.
The Pickers are a family- Remy, his daughters Maxine and Veronique, and Veronique’s husband Tony. The story is driven by the women as much, if not more than, by the men. They’re not there to be constantly rescued, or to stay in safety as the men do the daring work. Without Veronique’s intelligence and technical ability, they would not have the information that starts the adventure. Without Maxine’s bravery and gunsmithing, they wouldn’t even have survived long enough to get to the adventure.
Maxine and Veronique are mixed race. Early on in the writing, I applied one of the lessons I learnt from Puppy coverage. Far too often, when creating a character, we turn out someone who looks like us. I hadn’t quite done that- I knew Remy should have daughters- but I hadn’t really thought about their race. So I took a step back. Did they have to be white? The story was taking place in multi racial (albeit post apocalypse) Europe. Why shouldn’t they be mixed race?
This decision actually added depth further along in the story. Remy and his daughters were out in the bad lands because they had left their old home, a secure community known as The Valley. Why did they leave? Well, their mother was black, and as the only black kids in an insular white community, they were subject to the little town’s racism, even if it was rarely expressed directly. After the death of his wife, Remy’s dissatisfaction at her, and their daughters, treatment, was one of the driving forces behind their exit.
There are other elements that undermine the Puppy ideal. Without lecturing on the subject, climate change is taken as a given, the way the world got to be in such a state. No equivocation or denial for me, or some made up disaster. Maxine is bisexual, and there’s at least one polyamorous relationship. All of these add depth to the world. None of them is irrelevant or gratuitous, though that’s what Puppies would likely say about such details.
I’m carrying forward some of what I’ve learnt into my current and next projects. I’m writing a Rain and Bullets short at the moment, reviving something I started a few years ago, now that I’m more sure how it goes. In the original, I created a supporting character, an MI5 agent, and he came out white and male. As I did with Solstice, I asked if any of my friends wanted to give their name to the character, and Dennis became Amanda. Why did the agent have to be a man? They didn’t, though I hadn’t given the subject any thought in the earlier version of the story.
The project after that should be a series of novelette or novella length tales. Sort of like a television series, where every episode is mostly self contained, but there are arcs and ongoing plotlines running between them. I’ve started working out what characters are needed. None of them, yet, has gender, race, etc. specified yet. I’m working out what their role is, which archetypes they represent, first. The rest will come along later. I’m not quite rolling them up like a D&D character, but there’ll be some element of randomness in assigning sex and sexuality etc.
So, I’d like to say a thank you to the Puppies and the Gamer Gaters. Things I’ve learnt as a result of reading around the issues raised has expanded the scope of what I want to do, and the people I want to write about.
I’m not sure that’s the sort of result they were hoping for.
author: Jack Campbell
This is the second book in the Lost Fleet series that I’ve read, and in some ways, it’s indistinguishable from the first. The story has much the same steps- the fleet jumps into various enemy occupied systems on the way back to their home space, there are a couple of massed space battles where Captain John Geary’s old-fashioned tactics prove superior, the fleet loses a few ships, but destroys far more, someone in the fleet puts the mission in danger because they don’t agree with Geary’s command and the captain (who was recently defrosted after a hundred years in a life pod) discovers more differences from the old days.
It’s entertaining enough, and it hasn’t put me off reading the last one in the series (there’s another book between this one and the finale, but I haven’t got it on my bookshelf). The soap opera of Geary’s intertwined professional and personal relationships with his two closest aides is a bit tedious, but the careful doling out of information about a hidden alien enemy is done well, as is the gradual way the defrosted captain is winning over the hearts and minds not just of his own fleet but also some of the enemy.
I’m sure there is more complex and subtle space opera out there- I’ve just got to find it- but this is enjoyable lightweight entertainment that has served as a starter course in some concepts of space combat that I may use in my own works.
I’m knocking around ideas for a post-apocalyptic action-adventure story, to be done as one of Garth Owen’s alternate takes on popular film subgenres. The tale will be in the vein of Mad Max and all its imitators, with a band of adventurers, rather than just the one, traveling the post climate change/war devastation trading technology and information. What they want, more than anything else, is to uncover one of the underground seed banks, because the trove in there will set them up for life.
From the YouTube description-
Manborg is a creative and hilarious love letter to a VHS sub culture. Perhaps it has limited appeal to only those who know what we mean when we refer to a top loader. Perhaps those weened on a diet of CGI will fail to understand the beauty and static grace of stop animation.
Kostanski didn’t make Manborg for the masses but he has openly expressed his love of this sub-genre of cinema for everyone to see.
He made Manborg for those of us who lived and breathed it in our youths and it was a welcome trip down memory lane and a rocking good time.
Just a few things I spotted this morning which could be coming to a battlefield, or thriller, near you one day.
Mind controlled quad-copters. These are being developed to give the wheelchair bound a new view on the world, and maybe provide other tools to make their lives easier, but mind interfacing weapons have long been a sci-fi staple, so you know someone out there’s developing this technology with entirelyy different types pf blades attached.
Using Android phones to call in airstrikes. Okay, the article rubbishes the idea, so it’s unlikely to be used practically. But as a plot device it is quite cool.
BAE’s Striker helmet gives fighter pilots ‘X-ray vision’. Just the latest iteration of the move to a completely UAV air force?
The Internet could become self aware, as soon as withing the next decade. I roughed out a story based upon a similar idea a few years ago, though the computer network was a company’s intranet rather than the whole internet.
It seems appropriate to follow a Mongrels post with news of a way their cyborg implants might be powered.
Yeast cells feeding on the glucose in human blood might one day power implants such as pacemakers. A living source of power that is able to regenerate itself would eliminate the need for regular operations to replace batteries.
I’m scripting a sci-fi phone comic and thought it would be nioce to give the characters bullets that generated a small localised electromagnetic pulse, so they could more effectively fight kill crazy robots without messing with their own cyborg enhancements. Such things don’t exist, but I’m sure a miniature flux compression generator bomb could be made some day.
“The Endor Holocaust”
Found embedded in an article about the large database of all that is canon in the Star Wars universe.
Courtesy of EBay I am now the proud owner of a resin garage kit of the Mad Max Interceptor, in what appears to be its incarnation for the first film. Whilst trawling the net for reference photos of the vehicle, I came across a site that can help you build your own full size replica of Max’s car.
Now, if someone, Joss Whedon would be a good suggestion, were to create something in the spirit of the original Rocky Horror that played with sci-fi cliches that have arisen since its 1975 release I’d be jumping up and down and going “Want!”. But Hollywood, or, in this case, Sky Movies and MTV are too shortsighted to go for something like that.
The robot crashed through the shopping centre’s domed roof. It couldn’t have made a more spectacular, or deadly, entrance if it had planned. Shattered glass and twisted steel flew outward to cut and impale shoppers on two levels. The dying machine crashed into the fountain below the glass ceiling, reducing it to rubble. One flailing arm connected with a golden dolphin statue and sent it flying.
Mike Taylor had turned at the crash and screaming. It was the gilded sea mammal, tumbling end over end toward him, that caught his attention. He watched it, working out its trajectory. It might not hit him, but it would land close by. He grabbed the girl he had been talking to about gym membership and pulled her aside.
The statue bounced once on the tiled floor then hit one end of the display they had been stood by. The rest of the structure swung round and swatted Mike and the girl into the cover of an escalator. There was a rumble and everything went dark.
He was shaken back into conciousness by the girl, trapped under him. He rolled off her and slapped at the dust caked on his sleeve. “Sorry.”
“I think you saved my life. So, y’know….”
Beyond the cover of the escalator the floor was covered in rubble and the air full of dust. There was a crash and a rumble and a denser cloud of dust obscured the short distance across to the nearest shop front. “That’s happened a couple of times,” the girl said, “I think there’s something big moving around out there.”
“Like what? Like vehicles?”
There was a smaller clump and a shuffling sound of something pushing through rubble. “Like something with feet.” the girl replied.
Mike ducked around the edge of the escalator, but could see nothing through the dust. Then there was another scrape and something obscured the light coming through the hole in the roof. Something large and ovoid moved towards him. Three arms extended and red laser light danced through the clouds. A dot danced across the floor toward him. “Shit.” He ducked back in just before it reached him. “What the hell is that?”
“Let’s get the fuck out of here.”
“I’m with you on that. Mike.”
She didn’t understand for a moment. “Oh. Sally.”
They edged away from the sounds of movement, trying to use the escalator as cover. “I don’t want to join a gym. You just looked so bored.”
“If I was on commission I’d be offended. Fire exit.” Sally pointed out a sign glowing green through the dust. “Do you think we can make it?”
There was another crash, an impact so heavy it knocked them both of their feet. Blue and purple light flickered from the wreckage and then something bounced across the floor to rest beside them. It was torn metal shell,the crown of an ovoid robot. There was the clatter of metal tumbling over, then silence.
Mike and Sally looked at each other, each willing the other to be the first to say something. He offered his hand and she took it, going with him as he stood and turned.
There was another shape in the grey light now. It had multiple limbs- eight tentacle like arms and four legs. It stood over the truncated remains of the fallen robot like a child’s drawing of Shiva as an octopus, adding a blue glow to the light from the hole in the roof. As Mike and Sally approached it tried to pull up to its full height, but staggered as two of its legs buckled. They rushed toward their saviour.
The creature was shorter than the robot had been and significantly slimmer. It had a spherical head dotted all around with what could only be eyes but no obvious nostrils or mouth. Below this there was a symbol on what could be best called the chest. It glowed a silvery blue and seemed to be circling through every crop circle ever. The tentacles had hands on the ends- two multi jointed grasping fingers and three shorter opposing ones. As Mike and Sally drew closer two of the arms unfurled and the grasping fingers wrapped around their wrists.
The grip was firm but not painful. They tried to pull away, but were held fast. As they watched, the creature split into two. Two creatures, now with two legs and four arms each. One held Mike and the other Sally. Each had a smaller version of the crop circle icon on its chest and they each reached for it and peeled it off and rapidly swiped it on to the chest of their captive. The icons burnt through their clothes and adhered to their skin with a strange and discomforting lack of sensation. The creatures released their grips and collapsed into a pile like dropped hose pipe.
Mike and Sally hadn’t let go of each other’s hand through the whole exchange. They stepped back. “Fuck.” said Mike, as eloquent as he could manage.
Something was working its way under their skin, away from where the icons had hit their chests. But that didn’t get their attention now. They stared around at the destruction, finally seeing the bodies and blood. “Oh God.” Sally stepped closer to Mike. “How many…..?”
“Sixty five that I can detect.”
“These things are doing something to us. I can sense so many things.”
“Yes, I’m getting it now. Electricity, structures, infra red.”
They turned to each other. “There’s another robot.”
Without even thinking about it they jumped up through the hole in the roof. From the vantage point they could look down on the terrified crowds and emergency vehicles in the vast car park. “There.” Another large ovoid robot stood amongst wrecked cars, tearing them to pieces. Armed Police were approaching it, even though they didn’t know what to do when they got within firing range. Mike could feel the static of an energy weapon charging up and zoomed in to see the stubby gun shape rising above the crown of the robot. He could also sense the protective energy field that had suddenly formed around Sally and himself. Information he could never previously have imagined comprehending was available to him as well, as if he had just developed a dozen more senses. “You destroy it and I’ll keep people safe.” Sally told him.
They finally let go of each others’ hands before shooting across the roof at bullet pace. It was a long way from the edge of the roof to the far car park where the robot was wreaking havoc, but they knew they could make it. Mike pushed off and formed a Superman pose, fists out in front of him, heading straight for the robot. Sally deliberately jumped shorter, so she could land between the Police and the robot.
Mike imagined a wedge forming in front of him and saw it take shape. It wasn’t quite right, he changed it to taper from a single point just before he hit the robot. The shell buckled, and a seam somewhere began to tear, but Mike didn’t break all the way through to the inner workings. He bounced back from the impact as the robot toppled over. They both rolled and came back up to fighting stances.
The stubby gun traversed and pointed at Mike. Think fast, he told himself, think mirror. The shimmering blue field formed concave in front of the weapon, reflecting most of the blast back. Hot plasma found its way through the burst seams and destroyed less hardened components inside the shell. There was the sad sound of mechanisms powering down and the robot’s three legs went limp. The body clanged to the ground, tottered for a moment then keeled over to crush a burning car.
Mike stepped back, staring at the destruction around him. He’d just jumped in as if it were any old level of a video game, no thought for his own safety, just the need to kill the boss and move on. Now that the reality of the situation was sinking in he felt exhilarated.
Sally walked backwards to meet him, watching the crescent of Police around them. “They haven’t put their guns down.”
“Can you blame them, think what we must look like. We may look human, but we just did a bunch of superhuman shit righ
t in front of them.”
“Oh, and we’re naked.”
Mike looked down. “Bloody hell, when did that happen?”
“I really don’t know. But not only are they facing a pair of super humans, one of them is obviously horny.”
“Oh. Er……. I…..”
Sally took Mike’s hand and turned to him. “Shall we slip off to somewhere more comfortable?”
And they disappeared.
Some time later they sat together in a crater and watched the Earth rise.
“I don’t think anyone’s done that before.” announced Sally.
“Neal Armstrong would be pissed off if he knew what we’ve done to his footprints.”
“You understand that I don’t have sex on the Moon with just anyone. Especially not if I’ve known them for less than an hour.”
“I think today can be counted as special circumstances.”
Sally traced the symbol on her chest. It had stopped cycling and settled on one configuration when they had arrived at the lunar surface, but now it shifted and three crescents appeared on the left. A holographic screen appeared in front of them. “Each symbol represents a different function. Your tattoo seems to have different symbols to mine for some functions. I asked it some questions whilst you were asleep.”
“I was asleep?”
“You may be a super man, but you’re still a man.”
“Sorry. I’ll try harder next time.”
“Harder wasn’t the problem. Anyway, I’m getting distracted. I asked some questions.”
“About these tattoos?”
“About everything. Short story is that we’ve just become involved in a galactic war. The creatures that gave us the tattoos are under attack by a swarm of self replicating robots. They don’t know where the robots came from, but they’re eating their way around the edge of a civilisation of dozens of races. Earth is right in the path of one of the flanking arms of robots. The creatures we met were here to see if we were sufficiently advanced to fend for ourselves against robot attack. We’re not.
“Before they could report back they were attacked by a scouting party of robots. There are another hundred or so robo-corpses between Mars and where they crashed to Earth. The aliens were mortally wounded, but they can pass on their exo skeleton and weapons system to any creature they come into contact with. When they saw us holding hands they must have presumed that we melded together the same way they do and chose us to inherit their power.”
“So we’re Earth’s last, best hope?” The screen showed the locations of shattered robots, receding into space. Mike tugged the panel until it overlaid the landscape in front of him.
“Hardly. Between us we might just be able to take on a hundred or so of these robots, but there are billions of them in the main swarm, with mother ships and everything. We need to bring the rest of the planet up to near this level before the main body arrives. There are plans for the shields, weapons and flight systems stored in the tattoo that work from first principals onward.”
“And there are dead robots to scavenge from. That should help kick start things.” Mike zoomed in on the nearest robot. He could get to it in a few minutes.
“But who do we give the technology to?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, who would you trust with it? The United States would hoard the technology or use it to start another stupid war. Russia would try to get back all the former Soviet republics. China would clamp down on human rights and close its borders. And they’re just the three most powerful. The smaller countries would be worse, if anything, and the UN isn’t as powerful or independent as it ought to be.”
“France?” Mike suggested with a grin.
“Maybe. But can you imagine just how arrogant they would be about it?”
They chuckled, then subsided into quiet thought. Mike took over control of the screen to bring up the schematics Sally had told him about. They were presented as diagrams and symbols, readable in any language. “Open source.” he said in the end.
“We give the technology to everyone and let them do what they want with it. You’re right that we can’t trust any government, so we bypass them and give the technology straight to the citizens.”
“Careful seeding of the technology. There are a hundred robots. The British government already has three, and two dead aliens. We drop the rest around the world. One on the White House lawn, just to take the piss, the rest where we think they’ll be found by the right people. Then we go to universities and leave the plans where the nosiest students can find them. And finally, we release them on the internet. We’ll have to find a way to get the greater story out as well, so people will start working together to prepare a defence. Yeah, that’ll work better than trusting any politicians to get anything done.”
“You’re a geek aren’t you?”
“I guess I can learn to live with that.”
Note This one’s really about the bit at the end. I’ve been reading Baen books again. They’re enjoyable, but one assumption annoys me. It’s taken as a matter of faith, in all the stories with a contemporary setting, that the only hope for the planet is the United States military and government. I just don’t accept that. The military is professional enough, but they’re only as good as the orders they’re given. The current US government’s leadership on terror and global warming has only managed to make the situations worse.
So this is a rather simple superhero origin tale with alien threat built in that’s based upon my mistrust of any government’s ability to move as fast or be as flexible as necessary. If I were to expand upon it I would spend some time examining the authorities’ reactions and efforts to get things back on their terms, show how reactionaries can hamper the hard work that needs to be done.
Twenty five years after its initial release Ridley Scott has returnd to Blade Runner. He’s tidied it up and re-edited scenes to bring it closer to his original vision, producing a 5 dvd “Final Cut”.
Wired has an interview with Ridley Scott about the new release and making the original movie.
Wired: Part of your work in making the new version was eliminating visible wires. Given your legendary attention to detail, how did flaws like that get into the original print?
Scott:Because you can’t make a spinner fly without a crank. That’s why it was raining in the shot, to hide the cables. Today we assume it’s all digital. It’s not — it’s a 2-ton spinner being hoisted around the corner by a large crank that literally brought it down, landed it, and took it off again. Bloody good crane driver, right? You have four points on the cable that keep it steady. When I watched the movie, I always used to sit there staring at the cables. Then eventually one or two of the geeks spotted them. So we took them out.
It’s sunny for the first time in a month. But I just got hooked into watching Battlestar Galactica Season 3, so I’m staying inside.
They weren’t waiting for him on the first day. That was enough for him to know there would be a problem. During the next year he would send a message back. The world he had left would depart from the one he had arrived in. No-one knew what would happen to him and his divergent universe after had sent the message.
He spent a week researching the events of the last year, checking whether the divergence point had already passed. Too much seemed the same. As he suspected, the moment was yet to arrive. As soon as he knew this, he raided a safety deposit box set aside for just such an eventuality and indulged in a week long debauch.
It was impossible to send anyone or anything back in time. The energy requirements were too much and the anomalies created would collapse the launching universe. However, it was simple to send someone forward, so that’s what they did.
One year was deemed the optimum distance, far enough to give ample warning but not so far that future shock was a risk. If the volunteer sent nothing back in their year in another country they would be met on the day they arrived. As yet, the paradox had never been tested or questioned.
He rented an apartment, bought a computer and got an internet connection and subscriptions to all the main news sources. He resisted the desire to sink into substance abuse, but he had more than enough money to pay for the finest food and, occasionally, the best prostitutes.
Then he just settled in and waited, for whatever calamity was to come.