home ¦ Archives ¦ Atom ¦ RSS > Category: InProgress

September Books Completed

Mona Lisa Overdrive Cover.jpg

  • Making Money, Terry Pratchett. A satisfying sequel to Going Postal, although a bit too frenetic with an overabundance of characters. A few get short shrifted and could easily have been cut. Looking forward to Moist von Lipwig’s next misadventures.

  • Mona Lisa Overdrive, William Gibson. Rounds out my reread of the Sprawl trilogy. Not quite as tight or engaging as Neuromancer or Count Zero but definitely a good read.

  • Life, Inc Douglas Rushkoff. Disappointing, given that I had been predisposed to liking the book. I bought most of Rushkoff’s central arguments about modern finance and how it extracts from communities. However, this went on a little too long, at the expense of a deeper discussion of potential solutions. Also, using endnotes with no inline marker made the book come off as 200 pages of diatribe through assertion, followed by about 30 pages of thinly supported response. Still worth reading though.

Bit of a let down reading this month. Not the books’ fault, but I finished Making Money and Mona Lisa Overdrive during the Labor Day holiday. Visions of completing six books in September were dancing in my head, but obviously I fell short. Life, Inc. really bogged me down, then I lost some commute reading time to work travel.

26 down for the year though. 35 still in sight.

MPR Google Ranking

Once upon a time, some bloggers were a might interested in their rank for a Google Search of the key words from their blog title. Now, not so much.

But in that historical spirit, I will observe that this blog is currently #1 for a search on “Mass Programming Resistance”. How’d that happen!?

Ha, ha. Only serious.

Urban Science Fiction

The City & The City Cover.jpg So there’s a whole genre of speculative fiction known as Urban Fantasy, that takes the archetypes of traditional pre-urban fantasy and puts them in a modern urban setting. Read as werewolves, vampires, faeries and other magical folk co-existing with humans (to varying degrees of peacefulness) in Manhattan. In some sense, it’s hard to do the same thing with technology driven Science Fiction, since modern urbanity is such a product of technological advances. The mingling of the two is almost tautological.

But I wonder if there’s a class of science fiction that treats modern urban structures (read cities or metropolitan areas) as systems that can be hacked. There’s lots of SF that happens IN cities but is there much SF that happens TO cities? Even the good stuff that I’ve read with a heavy urban element, (Neuromancer, Altered Carbon, Brasyl, etc.) doesn’t quite get to where I’m reaching. The city, however well fleshed out, is always backdrop.

While I haven’t read it, China Mieville’s The City & The City would seem to be an exemplar, although it’s essentially a police procedural. Then again I should read it before holding it up as a prototype.

1 Cent Books on Amazon

amazon_logo.gif Making a push to read more books, means of course acquiring more books. I’ve been using the library but that primarily means hardbacks, which are too bulky for my taste.

So I’ve been looking into buying used paperbacks, which are significantly cheaper then new editions. Unfortunately, I don’t have a good fix on a used book store, with a good SF section, here in Northern Virginia.

Enter Amazon Marketplace or Half.com. There are these books with insanely low prices like a $1 or $0.75 or 1 cent. But that’s with a $3.99 shipping fee tacked on. What gives?

Turns out that there’s enough of a kickback to the seller on the “shipping” fee that they can make a little money. Especially if they do a decent volume and can get good postal shipping rates. This is for the Amazon Marketplace. I’m sure something similar works on Half.com, but I’m not seeing 1 cent books there. Not that I’ve looked all that hard.

Learn something new every day.

Irritants: Blogging Edition

The amount of self linking in modern weblogs, especially from high level blogging networks such as Gawker Media and Weblogs Inc. The ratio of inlinks to outlinks feels like 5-10 to 1.

The fact that self linking URL’s I used in New Media Hack, have the domain name wired in. Now my current archives exhibit a lot of linkrot, that’s going to be a pain to fix. Sometimes in The Jungle we smack our own.

The insane amount of flair on many modern weblogs. Back away from the widgets folks.

Blog posts which don’t have authorship and dating at the top of the post. This goes for news articles as well. Clear, early bylines are good information architecture. They help readers evaluate the timeliness and veracity of the following content.

Item titles in MetaFilter’s RSS feed suck. They’re typically not descriptive of the item so you can’t easily scan the spew in a reader like NetNewsWire. It’d be nice if they had a feed that just collapsed all of the posted nuggets into one item.

Book 2009.2 Ken MacLeod’s “The Execution Channel”

The Execution Channel Cover.jpg Ken MacLeod’s The Execution Channel is arguably the book William Gibson’s Spook Country should have been. MacLeod’s work is a little uneven, and eventually has a complete mindfuck ending, but it’s well worth reading just for the speculative political fiction.

First and foremost, The Execution Channel is a near future spy thriller with some interesting speculative elements, bearing only the slightest bit of science fiction. Set in the UK, the key characters are Roisin Travis and her father James Travis. Roisin, a peace activist, happens to be near an RAF base in Scotland when it gets vaporized in a mysterious mushroom could. This sends things sideways in jolly old England while Roisin and James both go on the lam. Turns out that James is a bit of a mole, selling out the crown. Meanwhile, he trained Roisin in a bit of tradecraft, which she uses to try and make her way to their designated meeting place.

Potential thermonuclear detonation obviously escalates world tensions. MacLeod develops a bevy of ancillary characters to illustrate hidden surges of espionage, counter-espionage, propaganda, and disinformation. One of the more interesting persons is Mark Dark, one of those pajama wearing, basement blogging, conspiracy theorists, who just happens to actually have a line on what’s really going on. Dark stands in for the blogosphere which MacLeod brings to life as a real area of of action for clandestine information operation campaigns. In addition, there’s a passel of spook types filling a spectrum from brutal, ideology driven thugs to elegantly refined pragmatists.

Suffice to say careful attention pays well when reading The Execution Channel.

Where The Execution Channel improves on Spook Country is in the gritty meanness that’s probably a little more accurate to our times. The just plain nastiness of some of the operatives in action and post-disaster human behavior doesn’t get lost in effervescent slickness. Yet the feel of conspiracies within conspiracies is similar. MacLead also does a brilliant job of subtly twisting the milieu into a disconcerting alternative history. I did a couple of double takes when confronted with some of the political shifts deftly woven into the narrative. And while subtly presented, they are at the same time enormous yet insignificant. Hard to explain but definitely on of the more interesting aspects of the book.

MacLeod mainly trips up near the finish line. The concluding events seem rushed and rely on some seemingly manufactured coincidences. The absolute conclusion jarringly comes completely out of left field, although it is consistent with all of MacLeod’s prior foreshadowing. Finally, the eponymous “Execution Channel” is a slim chapter ending device that adds a sense of menace. However, it just up and disappears about 2/3 of the way through the book. Not sure what the intended commentary was but I certainly missed it.

The Execution Channel is far from perfect, but similar to MacLeod’s The Star Fraction, I found it worth reading if for nothing else its political provocations. As I said of that book, MacLead is most interesting not because of his ability to speculate about science, but his political thought hacking, said ability also applying to The Execution Channel. Recommended.

Diggin’ On … The Jungle Brothers

Jungle Brothers Cover.jpg The diggin’ in the cratez iTunes strategy has reunited me with the Jungle Brothers. The JBeez, for short, were an offshoot of the late 80’s/early 90’s Native Tongues hip-hop collective. Not quite reaching the same level of renown as A Tribe Called Quest or De La Soul, looking back they had a pretty productive oeuvre.

Apropos, Elle Driver: “You know I’ve always liked that word… ‘oeuvre’ … so rarely have an opportunity to use it in a sentence.”

Some highlights:

  • Jimbrowski, their debut, “the thing’s so big you need a U-haul to haul it”

  • Because I Got It Like That, the 12” followup if I remember correctly

  • JBeez Coming Through, “5000 boomin watts. Sound system state of the art”

  • Black is Black, especially the Gee Street Ultrablack mix

  • I’ll House You, A House music anthem to this day, “feel the vibe, feel the vibe, feel the bass, c’mon!”

What’s great about all of these tracks is that the beats, rhymes, and energy still hold up well today. For a 1.5 album group, their sophomore effort Done By The Forces of Nature was a little weak, the JBeez got a lot done.

© C. Ross Jam. Built using Pelican. Theme based upon Giulio Fidente‚Äôs original svbhack, and slightly modified by crossjam.