Friday, May 28, 2021

Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells

 

Series

The Murderbot Diaries #6 

Story

Murderbot has to help solve a mystery. I mean they all have been mysteries of one sort or another, but this feels more like a who-dunnit. There is a debate in my house as to where this falls in the timeline, if it comes before Network Effect or after. I maintain that it is after, but there are possible points that might need a bit more review.

Concepts

Persistent perceptions: If a sec unit isn’t controlled by a governor, it must be a dangerous rogue, even if it is saving you. How can stereotypes get so ingrained? If most of your kind is never seen, or only seen when tightly controlled, and depicted when uncontrolled as unseeing killers of everything...


In a universe full of humans, convincing them one by one is really slow, especially if you don’t care enough to try.


Bots/Constructs/Humans circle or triangle of distrust. The relation between humans and bots seems to be well-defined, though there is still a spectrum of human thought towards bots. Constructs are the wildcard. They don’t really exist outside of company property so most people don’t see them outside of context.


Constructs only trust bots so far, but more because they are like slaves or pets, but not in Preservation space. There are a few facets that are certainly explored in this story.


One reason that this story may be out of order is because it really doesn’t deal with any other characters that we’ve had more than passing interaction with. Of course when SecUnit was on its own, it was dealing with new different people in terms of its… trusted adult. This feels much more like this than Network Effect did.


On the other hand this may be bringing some “newer” characters up to speed before they become critical in the story.

Recommendation

I love everything about the size of these novellas, except that I blow through them in way too short a time. Nothing against authors who write tomes, but reading this in less than three sittings often means that I am fully engaged and remember what happened, well, not too long ago.


Also, get it at a library, otherwise the price is a bit steep for a novella. I paid for it because I knew I would like it, yeah, yeah, how do I really know? Or maybe I am getting old and seeing the lower prices on much larger books from the past is hard not to compare. That must be it.


Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Network Effect by Martha Wells

 Series

The Murderbot Diaries #5

Story

Coming home from a mostly uneventful (less casualties than normal) survey, our hero (okay, not really a hero, it just wants to be left alone)  gets construct-napped by an old associate. This is quite a bit more of Murderbot in a single novel, not just novella length. 

Concepts

Duty vs caring: One of SecUnit’s responsibilities becomes more like a relationship, although there might even be a line about how icky another relationship feels when described. The story really explores the depth of self-deception of trying to not care and just carry out its duty.


Sacrifice: This is a huge topic outside of this book that it often seems people have a really hard time accepting in their own lives. What if you were built to be expendable to some degree? How selflessly would you act?


Unknown Alien Tech: Yep, a bit of a MacGuffin, but Wells has been building this up in her other books in this series, so it is not really a surprise that she uses it here to put constraints on the story.


Abandoned Colonies: I think this is an interesting look into the past as well as a look at current and future enterprises. While today’s enterprises don’t usually end up with stranded colonists, this certainly happened in the past, and may happen again when we are able to reach planets, but not too easily. When an enterprise is no longer profitable, how does it affect the people who are forced to live with the consequences?


This could be translated to today’s companies when they go bankrupt or leave a location. Many in the recent past have left pollution, a large populace of unemployed, and a sterling reputation. On the one hand a company fully exploiting a resource, however you want to interpret “exploiting,” is making money and is active in the location they exist. But a company that is gone is not. Maybe there are ways of extracting reparations from successive entities, but it is a much different story.

Recommendation

If you have made it this far in the series (yet again), starting with #1 and all the rest, then this is a must read. There are some interesting questions that I have mentioned above as well as the continued witty banter that makes my introverted heart just want to sing, though not in front of a crowd please.


This isn’t just a longer book that takes the same size outline as the novellas and strings it out. It is a novel in it’s own right. I do like the novella length, but I am also quite happy with how this book turned out. I have read #6, but I have to say that I hope she continues with the series. Maybe there will be conclusions, maybe it will spiral into unknown episodic space. I hope for the former.


Monday, May 24, 2021

Exit Strategy by Martha Wells

 

Series

The Murderbot Diaries #4

Story

Murderbot is on its way home (Or at least less hostile?) but finds out Mensah has been taken hostage. It’s already delivering data that could be used to tear down the evil corporation, but should Murderbot really care what happens or happened?

Concepts

Growth and Lapses: The amount of growth over the course of four novellas is possibly more than anybody could expect from anyone, but starting with a hugely blank slate and thousands of hours of serials bring into question just what a construct, specifically this SecUnit is. Of course we can’t quite move forward smoothly, and there are some definite hankerings to actually go rogue.


Increased capacity, less reliance: I suspect that there is more to the actual processing power mentioned, but I have to say, even without the speculation, that Murderbot is built to kill, and do it well, so yes there are violent scenes. However, the amount of restraint and alternate methods are quite interesting as well as making this a more complex story than skylark.


Deal with the unfair: If the enemy throws an unbeatable, but highly illegal, opponent your way, there probably won’t be enough time to complain to the authorities. There are quite a few instances of foreshadowing for this event, which brings into question just how well this series of novellas was planned out. Could this have been released as fewer books?


It is interesting how the technology aspect is very important to the telling of the story, but that it becomes a tool to tell it rather than being a major player. I think similar stories could be told with different or lacking tech, but it seems that they would need to rely on some form of magic in order to do so.

Recommendation

I mean really, if you are this far in the series it would be silly to stop now. But don’t just read it because you are this far, read it because you are invested in Murderbot’s humanity freedom as a being. It just happens to be well built to help its “friends.” Also tech snark, yes!


Saturday, May 22, 2021

Warm May

Utah mountain top view
 I think I broke my step counter. We had a few hikes that added up over the days to over 30k steps in a day and another day that was over 28k. Other days were over 15k pretty easily. Now that I look at it though, my adjustable step goal is just over 10k. Spot on for some questionable science.

That might seem reasonable, except that all through the pandemic I have consistently not even come close to that goal. Some days were below 3k. My body really suffered for it because I was always on edge in terms of not wanting to let my team down. As I have discussed before though: The only way to take care of others well is to (often) take care of yourself first.

There are deep philosophical discussions to be had behind this idea, but I will give two short caveats and an illustration: Never moving beyond yourself is just narcissism, and sometimes it is necessary to sacrifice many things in order to care for or protect someone.

But in general, if you are unable to feed yourself, you will probably be unable to feed another, whether you are unable to procure food today, or don't have the means to ever procure food. In an age-old sense, if you cannot hunt or forage because you are too weak, then those depending on you will starve. Right, so you need to eat, but in a modern sense you should not be denying others just in order to eat...

So back to too much work, essentially health might seem to be tangentially or maybe unrelated to how one works, but if you have ever been sick, hungry, or worried you know that it is hard to concentrate on a task-at-hand that won't alleviate the distraction. Physical health is the same, preventive maintenance means you will reduce the chance of dysfunction.

So I need more steps and I need more exercise. I am looking forward to starting my new Job on Monday. With everything new there is always apprehension, but I think this will be that much better.

My brother-in-law is married off, it was a good wedding. We took some time after and hiked and birded Utah and Idaho, that's where all the extra steps came from.

Also, why is it already summer? It is already too warm, and I need to plant beans, tomatoes, and peppers.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

This Time: Really Not Dead

 Wow, where to begin?

Well, there was a pandemic. It is still happening, I am vaccinated, but it might not protect me from the new variants. As a world we have added, perhaps permanently, words to our vocabulary about situations we may have never imagined. And that is the least of the changes.

My team and I helped facilitate the data for a few million swab tests with very little support. I learned a ton, including the limits to which I am willing to work. When my boss previous to this job lied to me about people working 80 hours that weren't academicians, I said it was crazy. I was right. As a software engineer I am sure there are some people that pull off 80 hour weeks, but I hope that they are few and far between. My "worst" week was 67 hours, and looking back on it I am sure I could have done a better job with better planning under 40 hours. Essentially coding is combining engineering knowledge and creative application all the time that the fingers are on the keyboard and the time surrounding.

Diminishing returns is the rule. Some people like Cal Newport, say that 4-5 hours a day of intense, or deep work is pretty much what we can expect from someone at a knowledge job. I don't disagree.

The end of February I had 40+ hours of fingers actually on keyboard according to a tracking app... I am pretty sure I rewrote a bunch of that code over the next two months. And we didn't have our on-call situation up-to-date. I really hate that, always being on-call means you can never truly take time off. Not truly taking time off means that you can't recharge. I joked that it was always Wednesday, never quite getting to a point we might take off some time. Whoever doesn't like Mondays has nothing on never-ending Wednesdays.

As a cap to this: In April as we started to slow down, I started to have ideas of how to do things better while I wasn't necessarily working, that realization was troubling. Finding out that my brain wasn't functioning well before made me go back and take a look at the hours. Conservatively I worked a whole extra month in February and March. I do not want to do that again.

I am about a week into a break between jobs. Missing the awesome team, but they are moving-on as well, and recuperating to some new normal. I am running again, trying to drop a bit of extra weight, doing some birding, hiking, and a bit of camping at Letchworth SP. Yeah, just trying to relax before starting, hopefully at a much more sedate pace.

Also this is becoming yearly... Well maybe I can do better with some real time.

Monday, March 02, 2020

Not Dead Again

Well another hiatus from writing on the blog. I haven’t died, but it was certainly an interesting period of my life. I no longer work at Macaulay Library, that was a weird re-org that seems to be still happening to others as well with less than forthcoming tactics. It still makes me rather upset.

In good news I found a company that was happy to hire me and pay me to be a Senior Software Engineer in August. It is still weird to be a senior anything, but I have found that I do have knowledge that others don’t, though sometimes literally only minutes before they ask. I still have plenty to learn. Quadrant Biosciences is a small startup so there is plenty to do in terms of new software to support the research side of the company. Plenty of challenges left and I hope I am up to them.

I have been reading, as this blog was starting to become a review blog, I really need to start that up. In November I attempted to start another novel for nanowrimo, but only got 15k words in. It is an exploration of a few ideas such as portal technology that may lead to a few of my writings several years ago that I could connect into a universe.

Running last year was pretty good. It was also probably one of the reasons I stayed sane during the false accusations at the Lab. I trained for a Half Marathon and ended up running it in 2:07. There is a possibility of running it again this year, but I am not entirely sure. I am definitely planning on signing up for one somewhere. I also managed to run a 5k in less than 25 minutes, and I plan to sign up for a few more this year to run quite a bit faster. We’ll see.

I am going to see if I can start reviewing sci-fi or other books again, as well as see where my episodes tailed-off. I might also start posting observations about tech, but that might be rather boring for the few readers that actually see this.

Also I realized that with my sporadic writing that continuing to serve ads that may have nothing to do with my content, my interests, or any of my reader's interests that I turned them off. However, if you use the Brave browser you can certainly add me to your sites that you contribute to.

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Skylark of Space by E.E. Smith

Series

Skylark #1

Story

With inklings of space travel in the future this is a series of adventures starting solidly on the Earth that take varying amounts of time on alien worlds afterward. That is not a sales pitch.

Semi- Main Character Richard Seaton accidentally discovers how to “decompose” copper into pure energy. Through some dumb-luck and some governmental machinations that probably wouldn’t have worked back in 1928 much less these days, Seaton is able to liberate the patent, or plans, from the governmental laboratory clutches and starts to really expand the idea in some related ways balanced with the “object compasses.”

Of course a dark, handsome and evil adversary wants nothing more than to utterly control the idea and goes about stealing it. Plans go awry and several hundred light years away and he and his captives need to be rescued. Nicks of time abound and through more dumb luck and a liberal application of chemistry they make it back to Earth.

Concepts

The white male chemist as the Ubermensch: Yeah, is as strong as an ox and can shoot, do dastardly amounts of chemistry, fly brand-new-designed-and-built objects under many gravities, and still woo the love of his life. In fact it is taken so far as an ultra-Darwinian alien culture declaring that he, his fiancee, his friend, and his friend’s wife to be are all just one step away from being perfect. Barf.

I do like a story about nerd “empowerment” but this is more like a power-trip fantasy. It is actually quite hard to get through some sections of the book that might have been gripping to a younger me, or to whole herds of young white males in the past. I think this is exactly what people think of when they are stereotyping science fiction.

While the casual racism sprinkled throughout is unfortunately straightforward cultural, the outright suggestion that white people, such as myself, are ultimately superior, even outwitting a much more “advanced” being is super cringeworthy.

Atomic power: This is actually somewhat interesting. The whole concept behind the book relies on an almost antimatter-like annihilation of copper to produce energy. Since the book was published in 1928, it sits between Einstein’s E=mc^2 and true atomic power. Doc tries to get the reader to understand just how powerful atomic energy could be, but of course is a bit off and very blase about the possibility of radioactivity.

Matter Attractor: I like how this has become a staple in quite a few science fiction media, and beyond just trying to use it in a different way basically hasn’t changed all that much in trying to describe how it works.

The Matter Compasses: Oh the MacGuffins have arrived. Have you accidentally lost your planet while traveling hundreds of light years? Well not to worry: a matter compass attuned to Earth can guide you back! While it isn’t totally out of the realm of the “spooky action at a distance” or quantum entanglement, it is still used with almost a practiced carelessness in the story in order to make the wild flights of fancy even close to possible.

Recommendation

At one point, right before the one-step-below-god scene I was thinking of trying to retell this tale with a bent toward advancing concepts, making characters more believable, and actually creating a story rather than a series of shallow episodes. I could take two approaches: Write an outline from memory, highlight important points that would tie back to the original story and then write a new story, something like Scalzi might have done.

Or reread the book and take careful notes, fill out technology with more modern understanding, etc. But this I think would be too hard. There is too much power fantasy edging into romance. Sure characters have crises, but generally anything more than the overarching return to Earth plot is literally resolved in a paragraph or two. I think I would have to tear this apart much farther than my abilities would allow at this point.

I would not recommend this book beyond getting a good taste of what a science fiction fueled power trip was like in 1928. Why did I write such a long review?

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