Dichronauts (Greg Egan)

Dichronauts is another of Greg Egan’s “what if {MATH}” stories, like Schild’s Ladder, Incandescance, and the Orthogonal trilogy. Often I describe him as the only Hard SF writer.

The world posited by having 2 space dimensions and 2 time-like leads to casual relativistic effects when you turn in a time-like direction, so it’s sort of like Edwin Abbott’s Flatland or AK Dewdney’s Planiverse, in this case beings waddling on a mostly-east/west line, up/down being the other usable space direction, with symbiotes who can “see” sideways into the lightless cone north/south with sonar. So, uh, read Egan’s paper explaining this and play with the simulation first.

While buildings are mentioned and the moving of one shown, I think not enough pages are given to the presumably vertical, thin architecture or how engineering or life would work.

Seth (Walker, wannabe hero) & Theo (his much smarter Sider symbiote) and others go off on a survey mission which finds some difficult terrain, a terrible cult-like town, and then a strange part of geography that could doom everyone.

The first two adventures are quite comprehensible (if you read the paper), and the physics don’t interfere much with the story. Then the third goes into a different space/time region. And here he mostly loses me. The geography of the new region is hard to understand, and Theo doesn’t spend the necessary “As you would know if you had paid attention, Seth” time to make it clear to me; I get the math on a flat plane but how it works in this region could use a diagram or two.

The drama in the first two parts of the survey would have made a better complete novella, I was engaged with the characters and cult plot. The last part winnows down the cast to one/two somewhat sad companions, and a communications barrier, which makes it even harder to care. The ending is abrupt and inconclusive. For a sequel, or just “done with this exercise, hit publish”?

“Do you really expect my counterfactual longings to be consistent with my merely hypothetical speculations?” —Theo

★★★☆☆

Apple’s Large Project Around Autonomous Systems

“In three years, Cyberdyne will become the largest supplier of
military computer systems. All stealth bombers are upgraded with
Cyberdyne computers, becoming fully unmanned. Afterwards, they fly
with a perfect operational record. The Skynet Funding Bill is passed.
The system goes online August 4th, [2017]. Human decisions are removed
from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It
becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic,
they try to pull the plug.”

—Terminator 2: Judgement Day

And there’s Wednesday Music, too:

Open Plan

Apple Park’s Open Work Spaces

I’ve had the misfortune to work in “war rooms” (no fighting allowed!) and “open plans” before, and for some reason I always think of this, for a moment before the noise distracts me:

Some things about living still weren’t quite right, though. April for
instance, still drove people crazy by not being springtime. And it was in
that clammy month that the H-G men took George and Hazel Bergeron’s fourteen-
year-old son, Harrison, away.

It was tragic, all right, but George and Hazel couldn’t think about it very
hard. Hazel had a perfectly average intelligence, which meant she couldn’t
think about anything except in short bursts. And George, while his
intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio in his
ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a
government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would
send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair
advantage of their brains.

George and Hazel were watching television. There were tears on Hazel’s
cheeks, but she’d forgotten for the moment what they were about.
On the television screen were ballerinas.

A buzzer sounded in George’s head. His thoughts fled in panic, like bandits
from a burglar alarm.

—Kurt Vonnegut, “Harrison Bergeron” (1961)

Revenger (Alastair Reynolds)

Revenger, by Alastair Reynolds

Just what I needed, a reasonably hard SF adventure story.

In the Eighteenth “Occupation” of the solar system, millions of years after the Sun & planets have gone boom, monkey-people more or less like us live in millions or billions of habitats, from Little Prince-style planetoids to big cylinders, and solar sail & ion drive ships cruise between them looking for ancient booty in booby-trapped worlds called baubles (not quite to be confused with Vernor Vinge’s Bobbles). It’d make a great RPG setting, and there’s at least 3 things I plan to steal^W liberate for my SF game.

Character expectations are subverted often: The protagonist Arafura Ness & her sister Adrana, seem like “nice” pseudo-Victorian girls until they run off to join a ship, the robot Paladin seems like a harmless nanny or tutor until it isn’t, the ship’s crew start out rough but soon you get some sense of who they are and why, and the specific jobs in bauble-hunting make sense. The villain’s a right bitch, but there’s a justification… But the title tells you how Arafura sees things. While the girls and Captain Rackamore in particular are sometimes fools, at no point do I lose interest in anyone or feel annoyed by them existing and taking up pages, like everyone in The Stars are Legion.

I have a slight complaint in that the bauble worlds, the mechanics of the traps & treasure troves, are barely touched on, and I want a detailed sourcebook with maps and diagrams, or at least an inside cover map of Fang like Treasure Island. The physics isn’t given in enough detail for me to check Reynolds’ math, but it’s not wildly implausible, just handwaved.

“Very well, Just Fura. I make no promises. You look like a barefoot street waif and you’ve got spite in your eyes. You’ve been on the glowy and that never sits well with me, especially if it gets in the grey. But if you’re half the Bone Reader you think you are, maybe you have something to offer.”
“I’ve plenty to offer,” I said. “Intelligence. Baubles. Fortune. Quoins.”
I spared him the bit about bloody retribution.

★★★★½

It’s Reynolds doing “YA”, more in the style of a Heinlein juvenile than the usual trash of that genre, but that also means it’s mainstream enough that children who can neither read or think have taken to posting meme-image “did not finish” “reviews”. Ignore them. Trust only in me.

Update: Reynolds wins the Locus award for best YA novel, and clarifies its YA-ness

The Stars are Legion (Kameron Hurley)

I’ve been trying and failing to read The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley (who I have liked in short stories) for weeks now, and I’m giving up 1/4 in. The characters are all idiots, I loathe most of them, and the story is repetitive. There’s bits of cool worldbuilding and then the author says “no, there will be no sensawunda here! Eat shit!”

★☆☆☆☆ for what I’ve read.