Alastair Reynolds Notes on Revenger

And now Reynolds has some photos of his journals developing Revenger, especially interesting for the speeds of the ships & worldlets, layouts of baubles, illustrations of Clackers and Skulls (I had pictured more of a dragon skull, this is more whale-like). The illustrations of the ships as fish is bizarre; I had pictured more like sailing ships but rounded, no top deck.

What I'm Reading: William Hope Hogson's The House on the Borderland

Cited by H.P. Lovecraft as one of his major influences, this was written in 1908, Hogson was a failed sailor, physical fitness enthusiast, failed poet, and writer at which he had some success, mostly with his later Carnacki stories. This and The Night Land are the two most directly applicable to weird tales and fantasy/horror gaming; I read both of these last back in the '80s, don't remember TNL as being anything deep, this one I remembered as a weird tale worth rereading.

Hey, this is all spoiler. Read the book, I think it's fantastic, but flawed, and I can't talk about that without spoilers.

From the Manuscript discovered in 1877 by Messrs. Tonnison and Berreggnog in the Ruins that lie to the south of the Village of Kraighten, in the west of Ireland. Set out here, with Notes.

The Framing Device: Two young men on a camping vacation in Ireland find a ruin around an endless pit, and an old manuscript diary, which they read. At the end, they question the local guide and find out some of the events of the manuscript match an old-timer's story. Woo-ee-oo. I'm glad the "let me tell you a story someone else told" device went away, it was also used in A Princess of Mars and far too many of H.P. Lovecraft's stories, where a story by the protagonist is more immediate.

The Recluse: An old man (name never given) lives alone. Almost. His sister Mary who has nearly no dialogue, no purpose except to explain how a man can live without having to cook for himself. And a dog, Pepper, who is the hero of the story, not quite an impossibly smart TV show dog (a half-century before Lassie will be invented). He comes to remote Ireland to buy a shunned house where he can have peace and quiet to write. This largely seems to consist of him sitting in his den reading all day, with dog by his feet, which is a fine lifestyle I engage in myself.

The Monsters: Investigating the OTHER vast endless pit at the far end of the gardens, monsters come up. Hero dog and old man flee back to the house, a siege fit for any monster/zombie flick ensues, including a few cunning tricks by the monsters and the Recluse. This entire initial section is basically enough for any other novel; it is perhaps a little fast at introducing and dealing with the monsters and attacks, but happily he's not some tedious typical paid-by-the-word Victorian writer. Almost too much so, it reads like any modern action-horror book, 30 years before Lovecraft or Howard got to this point in their writing.

The Visions: Mary denies knowing anything of the weird. I'm not sure how to take that. Was she driven mad by the monsters? Is the Recluse crazy? … Maybe? Next is a long out-of-body experience of seeing the universe. We find out just how important the House is, if not why. The Recluse learns more of the Pit, and exploration starts off very D&D-like, arming up and carrying a stack of candles, and then goes completely off from expectations. Another vision begins, which has horrific consequences.

The Love: Here's what I don't understand. He's seen, essentially, a faerie queen, or a ghost, and fallen for her, and cannot stay with her. The sections about her are almost incidental, and yet drive his later behavior. If she'd been inserted at the start of the visions, even driving them along, she'd make more sense. If there was any way for him to reach the Sea of Sleep, or her to reach out, that'd tie her into the story. As it is, it's just a weird "and also ghost lady".

Again Visions: Time passing and the ultimate fate of the Earth and Sun, and a reunion of planets and the House in an arena at the end of time. Which may be taken to mean the titans are playing games with mortals, the arena house is a reflection of the real house, like we may use miniatures and models to represent a game. And then back in the present, everything is lost, a final confrontation, which no heroic dog or old man can stop; if the things beyond this reality want to strike you down, they will.

The visions are hard to read. It's often not clear what's acting on what, which planet or sun is being seen at any time. The overall flow works, but the details are unfinished. Would they even make sense if they were more coherent? The Love's role is unclear, and a man just enamored of a faerie lady isn't fitting with the vast cosmic scope of the visions, or the fairly earthy monsters.

★★★★½ - must-read, but half is too weird to understand.

Also, the poem at the start, is "Shoon of the Dead". I'm sure Shaun of the Dead is named for Romero's Dawn of the Dead, but it's odd.

What I'm Reading: Rudy Rucker's Million Mile Road Trip, Juicy Ghosts

I read MMRT late last year, just finished JG.

  • Million Mile Road Trip: Teen slackers behave more like '60s-80s teens than Millennials or Zoomers; they're actually independent, run around doing their own thing with only minimal parental influence. Zoe's a jazz trumpeter, boyfriend Villy wants to be a rock star and has a big ugly purple car (I bet he does). Weird subtly non-Human cousin Maisie, and UFO cult are introduced. Aliens come out of nowhere, as they so often do in Rudy's books. There's another, bigger Universe, "Mappyworld", and the aliens want the slackers, and Villy's little brother Scud as tagalong, to do a "million mile road trip" (title ref 30-ish pages in).

It gets weirder from there, as usual. The cosmology and physics are bizarre, more like one of Greg Egan's math-Universe books without the math. Strange aliens are everywhere, UFOs aren't at all what we normally think, and a super difficult quest. Lot of "teen romance", sex without understanding the consequences (not judgmental, just literally they don't understand what happens!)

Entirely normal interaction:

"Via my teep slug, I wit your brother was laid low by a Freeth." says Filkar. "And you took a coward's way out. Here's solace: oft a Freeth seeks only to stun, and not to slay. Let us therefore suppose that Villy is hale. How do you regain face? Return bearing the benison of a teep slug."
Scud goes for it. The slug is an add-on. A power-up. He extracts the dusty spice jar from his jeans and drops a caraway seed onto flat Filkar. The gingerbread man bucks and shudders, absorbing the seed's fragrant biochemical essence and, very clearly, feeling the better for it.
—Rudy Rucker, "Million Mile Road Trip"

But then eventually it falls apart, you can't actually narrate a million miles of driving (or flying), it's just too much. The book could be 1000 pages instead of 400-ish and it wouldn't be enough. You can see the exact paragraph where Rudy went "uuuuuuhhhhh… wtf now" and basically skips to the ending. The final Boss Fight is hard to follow, in spaces without space, time that doesn't pass, and everything's resolved too fast.

It's so rushed in parts, and so overly ambitious it can't be complete. The characters would be better a little older, On the Road was about Jack Kerouac's adventures in his 20s (and written in his '30s), making the sex, drugs, jazz, and murders less skeevy.

The book web page has notes with a lot more background material that didn't make it in.

So, I like this, I want to love it, but it falls short of that. ★★★★☆

  • Juicy Ghosts: Go read his speculative-science-newage-philosophy book The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul and the short story Juicy Ghost on his Complete Stories page. You've now read 90% of the novel. There's a few new characters introduced after the assassination of "Treadle" (Trump), and the biotech world kritters are interesting (but sort of recycled from Freeware). The biotech houses are neat, but never explained in much detail. There's a bit of a war scene, and some infiltration/hacking, and everyone wins yay. The Notes on Juicy Ghosts are better than the book; and Rudy's paintings help a lot, I wish he'd put more of those in the e-books, instead of just the line sketches that also work in print. ★★☆☆☆ can't really recommend reading the novel.

2022 TODO

No looking back. Burn our 2021 ships behind us. Forward is death or glory.

  • Ship Haunted Dungeon. Work on other games which are not CRPG/roguelike for a while.
  • Write more Scheme, maybe publish some of it. If Scheme's so efficient, why am I such a bum who can't ship?
  • Playtest & ship my new tabletop RPG.
  • Boardgames? I've been thinking about condensing some of my ideas into a more concrete, boardgame model. Print or software, I dunno yet.
  • Read more, watch less garbage/browse the web less. I didn't do too badly on reading in 2021:
    • Fujino Omori: Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls In The Dungeon light novel. I loved the anime, and played the mobile game for like 2 years, it's being adapted too slowly for my taste, so I read the books some. It's amusing easy-reader trash about JRPG fantasyland, and I don't care.
    • Tim Pratt: The Wrong Stars. Started on the sequel and it sucked, DNF.
    • Michael Warren Lucas: Drinking Heavy Water, Butterfly Stomp Waltz
    • Alastair Reynolds: Shadow Captain, Bone Silence, The Prefect, Elysium Fire, Beyond the Aquila Rift (had read several in earlier mags/collections, but many were "new"), Revelation Space, Redemption Ark. Look. I'm aware that's too many. But I want to read the new one, so I have to catch up and I'd forgotten everything in the RS setting.
    • Rudy Rucker: Million Mile Road Trip (been sitting on tsundoku for too long)
    • Neal Stephenson: Cryptonomicon (reread after 22 years). Dude, Neal used to be able to write a doorstop I liked reading.
    • Andy Weir: Project Hail Mary
    • Martha Wells: Fugitive Telemetry
    • random old pulps from the '40s-80s off archive.org. Complete Manly Wade Wellman in Weird Tales has been a nice trip, lot of Fritz Leiber and Roger Zelazny.
  • Top of my tsundoku:
    • Hannu Rajaniemi: The Quantum Thief
    • Alastair Reynolds: Absolution Gap, Chasm City, Inhibitor Phase and then I will be free! I might go a year or more without another Reynolds book oh sweet mother of fuck yes.
    • Rudy Rucker: Juicy Ghosts, have read the short story
    • Martin Gardner: The Last Recreations
    • Isaac Bonewits: Real Magic an Introduction (research for better game design!)
    • Black Magic Omnibus vol.1 & vol.2
    • Andrzej Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. I read up thru Blood of Elves a couple years ago (prompted by the TV show, yes), and keep picking up the next one and stopping. I dunno why, they're pretty similar to my D&D-type fantasy campaigns.
  • Do some more software & project maintenance. A lot of my stuff that I have in various places is either unmaintained, broken, or just unadvertised in any way. Might set aside one work day a week to this.
  • Actual contract work. I'm never going back to an office in my life. I should be #1 online earner, but I really can't be arsed to talk to recruiters, clients, get the job, and do it, a lot of the time. Probably should be slightly more than zero productive citizen.

What I'm Reading: Shadow Captain, Bone Silence by Alastair Reynolds

Shadow Captain follows the other, less crazy sister, as she tries to revenge herself on pirate Bosa Sennen, then keep their ship supplied, and gain clues about what Bosa was up to. Very much middle-of-trilogy syndrome, nothing happens that's necessary to the overall plot, but it's adequately more of the first volume. We find out a new behavior of the Quoins. ★★★★☆

Bone Silence is split between the sisters POV, and wanders between some excellent lightsail ship combat, a bit of urban treachery, and then pursuit by the… not Navy, but thugs employed by the bankers, so essentially the East India Company, and like the pride of the English, they're honorless scum. All to the good, except midway thru they split the party, one ship goes to town and the other stays to fight the thugs. The author fails to remember the many Chekov's Guns hanging on their fireplaces, and so this is much more of a struggle than it ought to be.

And here the plot turns into a summary, dozens of characters are introduced who have no further purpose or interest, an insurrection takes place in the sewers of an O'Neill colony, and impossible machinery is turned on. An alien explains more about the Quoins, except this is couched in superstitious nonsense for the monkeys and I don't know I believe any of it except the behavior we see. This part's absolutely disposable, but clearly Reynolds was tired of the setting and couldn't wait to get to the last bit. Where a giant precursor starship is approached… the Baubles use stasis fields, but the ship doesn't, even tho it absolutely needs it. The nature of the emergency is made clear but not why they're in that emergency. Rather preachy finale, bad guy is sent off to… smash into the habitat windows? He should be spaced, to make the punishment work, but he's not.
★★★☆☆ at first, then ★★☆☆☆ by end

Possibly better to make up your own 3rd volume than read Bone Silence. I'd still dearly love an RPG sourcebook (preferably for Traveller/Cepheus Engine) covering the mechanics of ships and Baubles.

Computer Lib/Dream Machines

Someone has finally uploaded a (possibly legal?) copy of to archive:

Read it from either end, there's two coherent books written back-on-back like an Ace Double, happily you don't have to turn your monitor upside down.

The first personal computer book (before the Altair came out!), though the PCC Newsletters predates it (and he mentions them). Fascinating time capsule, political tract about use of computers to control you (CYBERCRUD as he puts it).

Any nitwit can understand computers, and many do.
Unfortunately, due to ridiculous historical circumstances,
computers have been made a mystery to most of the world. And
this situation does not seem to be improving. You hear more
and more about computers, but to most people it's just one big
blur. The people who know about computers often seem unwilling
to explain things or answer your questions. Stereotyped
notions develop about computers operating in fixed ways--and
so confusion increases. The chasm between laymen and computer
people widens fast and dangerously.

This book is a measure of desperation, so serious and abysmal
is the public sense of confusion and ignorance. Anything with
buttons or lights can be palmed off on the layman as a
computer. There are so many different things, and their
differences are so important; yet to the lay public they are
lumped together as "computer stuff," indistinct and beyond
understanding or criticism. It's as if people couldn't tell
apart camera from exposure meter or tripod, or car from truck
or tollbooth. This book is therefore devoted to the premise
that

EVERYBODY SHOULD UNDERSTAND COMPUTERS.

Computers are simply a necessary and enjoyable part of life,
like food and books. Computers are not everything, they are
just an aspect of everything, and not to know this is computer
illiteracy, a silly and dangerous ignorance.

In many ways as relevant as ever. Just because you have a computer or "smart" phone, doesn't mean you know anything about its operation, purpose, and purposes you can put it to. Most people just use them as glorified TV sets and newspapers, mass media delivering people.

Unredacted 1st ed, includes some very… Ted Nelson is a white male born in the 1930s, his language about race and sex are, uh… not acceptable sometimes. Be aware.

Also, cover price $7 in 1974 is $37.61 in 2021, not $120, as Ted currently charges for a photocopy on his website. But at least he managed to publish this, unlike Xanadu which took 50 years to ship nothing.

I have a much longer draft of notes about it, that I'll probably finish up at some point. Now that I can just point you at the original, that gets easier.

Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine on Archive

I was looking specifically for Philip K. Dick's "Cantata 140", also found Roger Zelazny's "A Rose for Ecclesiastes" and look at that great wraparound cover! But also all of F&SF is in there, and it's pretty much all good, the best of the more literary end of SF, fantasy, weird tales. Unfortunately it hasn't all been neatly organized in a category on archive.org, but you can just page down in the pulp magazine rack.

Anyway, there's your reading stack for the next year sorted.

What I'm Reading: Network Effect, by Martha Wells

Finally the novel length treatment I've been asking for. Murderbot, calling itself just "SecUnit" in the company of friendly non-corporate Humans, does a perfectly adequate job protecting them from their poor decision-making, and becomes somewhat… not exactly social, but what passes for it.

“She grimaced. “Right, sorry.” Then she looked away and rubbed her eyes.

And I’d made her cry. Good job, Murderbot.

I knew I’d been an asshole and I owed Amena an apology. I’d attribute it
to the performance reliability drop, and the emotional breakdown which I
am provisionally conceding as ongoing rather than an isolated event that
I am totally over now, and being involuntarily shutdown and restarted,
but I can also be kind of an asshole. (“Kind of” = in the 70 percent–80
percent range.) I didn’t know what to say but I didn’t have time to do a
search for relevant apology examples. (And it’s not like I ever find any
relevant examples that I actually want to use.) I said, “I’m sorry for …
being an asshole.”
—Martha Wells, "Network Effect"

Then a rather familiar transport/gunboat shoots them up, and abducts them to another solar system, with some odd, hostile inhabitants, or "Targets" as Murderbot calls them.

Finally we get a little explanation of the wormhole transit system, much better detail on drone and network systems, and Corporation Rim colony setup. There's even a planetary surface described in… not great detail, but any detail? So that's different. Since reading this book I'm going back to reread the novellas with more background information.

There's as much internal chatter of Murderbot as ever, which is the thing that draws us weirdos to this, but also a lot of feed and voice chatter with others forcing some character development the novellas can't achieve.

It's organized almost along episodic A- B- plot beats, Murderbot kills everyone, there's a social/investigation sequence, backstory piece, repeat (four times? More or less).

The Targets and what's driving them takes a long time to be revealed, and how some of their software attacks are possible isn't clear until very late in the book.

And it's left set up for more stories, which is all Murderbot's after, too.

★★★★★ — inhaled it in a couple sittings.

Also, there was a prequel short story in Wired a couple years ago, which I just learned of:

Last Stand of the California Browncoats

Amusing that the start of the apocalypse is now in the past (the main books are set 20 years later), but I really want to point back at these, and in particular the prequel story, when people could have stayed home, avoided the plague, but instead wanted to go cosplay Firefly for a weekend.

Feed's a great epidemiology story, and a fairly good vlogging/social media (they say "blog" but only appear to do video) story, with zombies as almost a totally irrelevant side effect.

The main two caveats I have are technical: The blood testing system is basically what Theranos was pushing, and it probably can't be made to work, the sample sizes are too small. And later has a tiresomely impossible (at least with their tech) medical technology. There's a creepy personal thing, too, but you know, people gotta get their bone on with someone/thing.

I think I haven't read a bunch of the short stories, only the above and "How Green This Land, How Blue This Sea", which is a little silly because it's about Strines vs zombie kangaroos.

"Mira Grant" has a few other horror books, the Parasite series is very zombie-like as well; she's grim and serious but has just a little genre fanservice goofiness to lighten the mood. But the author under her real name, Seanan McGuire, also writes urban fantasy books, and they're dire. Easily some of the trashiest "I'm Wonder Woman and I wanna fuck a monster" books since Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake went off the rails straight into bondage-mutilation-porn-land.