What I'm Reading: Rogue Protocol, by Martha Wells

Murderbot #3, see Murderbot #1: All Systems Red and Murderbot #2: Artificial Condition.

While the page count is about the same as the previous two novellas, this one feels really short and thin, largely because there's only a very short and mostly uneventful ship ride and then a single main story of hijinks, and for most of that Murderbot is an observer.

The facility where most of the time is spent is given only a desultory description, often I have to piece together how it looks and fits together when something is introduced, like windows along the service tunnels. I still have very little idea of what the planet surface is like. There's some "haunted spaceship" atmosphere for a bit, and then reality sets in and Murderbot just has to solve problems, i.e. do some hacking and then very destructive combat.

A bot named Miki is somewhat interesting, as the exact opposite of Murderbot in every way. The humans in this are, as always, dumb, slow, and annoying, whether helpful or antagonistic. It's the reverse of how most SF treats robotics, where the people are interesting and the bots are all the same.

But I can't say this one's that great, full price is excessive on a novella that doesn't deliver. ★★★½☆

Next novella should finish this story, and I'd hope after that Martha writes full novels in the setting.

Anatomy of Frank Herbert

Truthfully, "God Emperor of Dune" is the best book in the series, but you have to read the second and third books to get to it. And they are… They are just the worst.
—Dave Kellett

This is completely true. We can theorize about how Chapterhouse: Dune or the final book might've been the best if Frank hadn't been dying, but certainly the abominations perpetrated by Kevin J. Anderson (worst writer in the world) and Frank's incompetent son Brian were not that.

But the Dune series isn't Frank Herbert's best work. I'd put at least Destination: Void, Whipping Star, Dosadi Experiment, Hellstrom's Hive, and Eyes of Heisenberg above it, both for scope of ideas, character development, and pacing.

Dune most of the time meanders aimlessly through the desert, eventually coming up with a memorable scene, and Dune Meshuggeneh (#2) and Super-Babies of Dune (#3) are the least interesting books Herbert ever wrote. The others are all far more tightly written.

His short story collections, mostly about the ConSentiency setting (I want a chairdog!), are fantastic. And for sequels, the Bill Ransom co-authored Jesus Incident, Lazarus Effect, Ascension Factor are good stories of Humans under a deranged AI that thinks it's a god: Good lessons for the coming times.

What I'm Watching: Extinction

What I'm Watching: Extinction

Extraordinarily dull first 20 minutes of a working stiff having bad dreams of war against space invaders. Then a pretty solid chase/urban combat arc. Then the plot flips, which I did not see coming, a rare pleasure.

Go watch this on Netflix and come back so we can talk about it.

SPOILERS: Please see the movie first. So copy this text and view it in advanced rot13 encryption

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But the reveal and resolution is great, this is a perfectly fine actual-science fiction movie.

★★★★½

Liberation in Art but not in Your Stupid Life: 2112, Real Genius, TRON, and Ready Player One

In which art is not blamed for the problems of the world:

2112

A man in a controlled, music-less dystopia finds a guitar, learns to play, and feels joy. The priests of Syrinx who rule the system in the name of "average" (a la Harrison Bergeron) crush him. The ancients of rock who created the guitar return and liberate the system with a prog rock concert.

Our world could use this beauty
Just think what we might do
Listen to my music
And hear what it can do
There's something here that's as strong as life
I know that it will reach you

Don't annoy us further!
Oh, we have our work to do
Just think about the average
What use have they for you?
Another toy that helped destroy
The elder race of man
Forget about your silly whim
It doesn't fit the plan!

TRON

A game designer dude lives in exile above his arcade, robbed by evil AI & corporate suit. His ex and her dork boyfriend let him into the building, and he goes into the computer world, which the evil AI & corporate suit rule as well. The ancient soul of the machine gives the dork's program access and lets it play Breakout against the AI, and the game designer sacrifices himself, liberating the inner world, deleting the evil AI & firing the corporate suit, restoring the game designer to power in the real world.

Greetings, programs!

Real Genius

A too-young, too-uptight student works for an evil professor, but makes friends with other weirdo students and loosens up. The evil professor and the military trick the weirdos and make a death ray from their work. The ancient student in the closet emerges and the weirdos hack the death ray and turn the evil professor's house into popcorn.

All for freedom and for pleasure
Nothing ever lasts forever
Everybody wants to rule the world

Ready Player One

A boy in a crapsack world, literally in a trailer home on top of trailer homes, finds solace in ancient movies and games from a book by an ancient nerd. The corporation which rules the world and the virtual world crushes him and his friends. The ancient nerd's program runs, and gives the boy power and he liberates the virtual world and the real one.

After a long silence she asked, "So what happens now?"

Just Stories

These stories, they're just stories of their time.

2112 didn't end the "Moral Majority" or censors. The PMRC of Syrinx was founded 6 years later to destroy rock 'n roll and rap; the PMRC is gone but Tipper Gore still lives and hates, and music is still censored; remember Fuck You, by CeeLo Green? You probably only heard the censored radio version "Forget You".

TRON didn't end centralized computing, AI, or thieving corporate assholes. Today EA has ruined large gaming, and Google & Amazon make AIs that will probably kill us all.

Real Genius didn't end all CIA/military weapons. Today the babykillers have unmanned drones that can fly anywhere and assassinate anyone (and any bystanders/witnesses).

Ready Player One didn't make the real Internet a "safe space". Facebook, Twitter, or Google can still track you, filter what you see, and give Nazis access to harass you.

This is not a failing of art, it exists for fun or catharsis, and to give you coping strategies. It is not a magic spell to fix everything.

So, you can do something inspired by art; make art yourself; or, if you are completely useless, just whine unreasonably about art and be held in contempt.

You'll Never Get Me Up in One of Those

I reference this comic regularly and nobody knows what I mean, and now all of you can know what I mean:

You'll never get me up in one of those
(from OMNI 1980-08)

It's so hit and miss. Sometimes there's an article or story that still blows me away. Flip flip flip past the junk. Most of the OMNI articles are rubbish, UFOs, James Lovelock's Gaia nonsense, psionics, cryptozoology, etc. I mean, I love that they serialized Stephen King's Firestarter, but it is a nonsense story about magic mental powers. And the other story in in this issue is a man finds a sarcophagus of the fictional character "Jesus", but melted because a magic sky fairy used energy beams to take him away or some such. Fuck that nonsense.

The archive.org scan is shit, so the pictorials (the Dune pictorial was hugely influential on me, long before I read the books) are hard to view, but I can search for them by title if I want a hi-res copy. The Internet's often bullshit, too, but you can always search for the good stuff, and there'd be more if people weren't such jackasses about old content.

What I'm Reading: Artificial Condition, by Martha Wells

Murderbot returns, looking for its origin story and some peace and quiet to watch stupid TV shows in. Along the way, it meets a transport with excess time/intelligence on its… well, no hands… and some dumb kid researchers who need security, and has to pass as something it can't even make eye contact with.

"Yes, the giant transport bot is going to help the construct SecUnit pretend to be human. This will go well."

As I was hoping for, there's more background, several mall-like stations are explored even if Murderbot can't do a lot of social interaction. Several nice fights and "how stupid can Humans be?" bits.

Short and SUPER breezy, but exactly what I want more of.

★★★★★

What I'm Reading: MagicNet

MagicNet, by John DeChancie (1993): What if there's magic in the modern world, but it needs a computer "network" to make it real?

Everything below is SPOILER, because I want to talk about ideas not explained until the end.

Skye King (he references the TV show, but not the Kris Kristofferson song ) hears his friend Grant get murdered during a phone call, and then receives a box of 3.5" floppies (the fancy kind) containing programs OUIJA and RAGNAROK. OUIJA allows him to type and soon speak directly to Grant's "ghost". RAGNAROK is a tool for revenge against Merlin; no, not that Merlin, just some guy named Lloyd Merlin Jones.

This is where things get weird and/or stupid. Witches and wizards are all over, using computers but no longer really needing modems to reach the "Magic Net". They can project hallucinations and in some cases "demons" all over, but maybe can't do anything real? It's suggested that non-magical people wouldn't perceive anything, and maybe non-magical explanations would be "true" in base reality.

Nobody in this says "Internet", despite being written 5+ years after most universities got Internet access and just before AOL & the September That Never Ended. From 1989-1993 I was spending most of my time on USENET and playing CircleMUD or LambdaMOO, which were essentially the magical world already. Once, a witch describes the magical reality as "cyberspace", but this is just buzzword-speak, not a meaningful comparison.

Far, far too much of the book is first-person narration of mundane activities like cooking, or a plane flight, as if the author had never done that before or wanted to pad out the page count. Characters are introduced and forgotten almost every chapter.

This is almost like one of Rudy Rucker's Transrealism books, but nowhere near as weird, trippy, or fast-paced, and it makes far less sense. But they even name-drop and visit a famous SF writer.

The final section finally does go full drug-trip and has a semi-coherent explanation of how the magical reality is created, and if you paid attention to mythology (in particular Zoroastrian) you'll recognize all the spirits/demons names.

Certainly this is a poorly-written book, and the premise has been handled better by better writers; in particular Vernor Vinge's "True Names" handles the computer/fantasy interface, and Victor Koman's "The Jehovah Contract" covers the myth/reality/sexy witches interface. But it's an interesting work despite the mediocrity.

★★½☆☆