Tac Anderson

The love of knowledge is a kind of madness.
― C.S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet

Moxyland: South African Cyberpunk is a Beautifully Disturbing Thing.

In 2011 I was visiting South Africa for the first time and while I was there I stopped in a bookstore and wanted to find a South African sci-fi author. I picked up Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes and loved it. Zoo City isn’t exactly cyberpunk but it’s definitely dystopian and if I wanted to I could probably try and find a way to justify reviewing it here and maybe some day I while, but suffice it say, I was smitten and you should absolutely read it.

After reading Zoo City, I wanted to see what else Lauren Beukes had written and was shocked to find out that she had a pretty big underground cyberpunk hit,Moxyland. There were lots of sites and posts and articles about Moxyland. It had come out in 2008 why hadn’t I heard about it? Oh, I see. It came out in 2008 in the UK (where I was living at the time) but didn’t get released in the US until 2010.

Most of my UK cyberpunk friends are well familiar with Moxyland but most of my US friends still haven’t heard of it.

Moxyland is the only cyberpunk novel I’m aware of that’s set in South Africa, but there’s so many things that make South Africa a perfect setting. South Africa is a country with so much socio-political and economic change happening, it’s not hard to imagine one or two things upsetting the situation and turning it into a spiraling dystopia. But South Africa is also an incredibly optimistic country filled with so much potential.

A ruthless corporate-apartheid government with video games, biotech attack dogs, slippery online identities, a township soccer school, shocking cell phones, addictive branding, and genetically modified art. Taking hedonistic trends in society to their ultimate conclusions, this tale paints anything but a forecasted utopia.

Lauren Beukes writing style is unique and engaging but her vision of the future is thrilling and terrifying. By extrapolating current trends she creates a future that seems not just realistic but, at times, inevitable.

If you haven’t read Moxyland, you really should. If you have already read it let us know what you thought. If you have any recommendations for similar books let us know what they are.

(This is a repost. I am closing down a book review blog and moving the few posts I made over here.)

Newbury and Hobbes Investigates The Affinity Bridge

George Mann is one of the more well known steampunk authors and his Newbury and Hobbes series is one of the most popular ones. The Affinity Bridge, the first in a current series of four with an additional collection of short stories, has everything the genre has to offer. Airships, clockwork automatons, the living dead, and the supernatural. It’s also incredibly well written with great characters.

Newbury is a secret agent for the Queen, but beyond that he might remind you of a great literary character. He’s a brilliant detective, with an attention to detail and an penchant for recreational drug use. He is an obvious homage to Sherlock Holmes, which suits me just fine.

Since this was published in 2008, if you’ve been into steampunk for a while, you may have already read it. If not you really must. Here’s the official blurb:

Welcome to the bizarre and dangerous world of Victorian London, a city teetering on the edge of revolution. Its people are ushering in a new era of technology, dazzled each day by unfamiliar inventions. Airships soar in the skies over the city, while ground trains rumble through the streets and clockwork automatons are programmed to carry out menial tasks in the offices of lawyers, policemen, and journalists.

But beneath this shiny veneer of progress lurks a sinister side.

Queen Victoria is kept alive by a primitive life-support system, while her agents, Sir Maurice Newbury and his delectable assistant Miss Veronica Hobbes, do battle with enemies of the crown, physical and supernatural. This time Newbury and Hobbes are called to investigate the wreckage of a crashed airship and its missing automaton pilot, while attempting to solve a string of strangulations attributed to a mysterious glowing policeman, and dealing with a zombie plague that is ravaging the slums of the capital.

It was interesting for me to see that the book get’s on average, 3 star, reviews on Goodreads and Amazon (which in my book a 3 star review is still a good review), but later books averages 4 star reviews. I think it’s because The Affinity Bridge is one of the few books to have some success beyond it’s usual genre fans and more into mainstream fiction. The fact that later books get better reviews is probably due in part to Mann’s own progression as an author and the continued development of the characters, but I think it’s probably more likely that only fans of the genre are the only ones who got passed the first book.

Have you read The Affinity Bridge? What did you think? Do you have any book recommendation similar to this?

(This is a repost. I am closing down a book review blog and moving the few posts I made over here.)

This Will Make You Think – Nexus: Mankind Gets An Upgrade

Nexus is a hard book to classify. I’ve seen it listed under speculative fiction, dystopian, techno-thrillers, and of course cyberpunk. For me Nexus embodies what I first loved about cyberpunk; that science fiction and science future are become closely intertwined.

Ramez Naam is not your normal scifi author, he’s a hard core technologist. Just check out his author bio.

Ramez Naam was born in Cairo, Egypt, and came to the US at the age of 3. He’s a computer scientist who spent 13 years at Microsoft, leading teams working on email, web browsing, search, and artificial intelligence. He holds almost 20 patents in those areas.

Ramez is the winner of the 2005 H.G. Wells Award for his non-fiction book More Than Human: Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement.

Ramez Naam’s first fiction book is amazing. The premiss is mind blowing but the writing and story development are really solid. The characters are rich and not cliche. The author’s own socio-political views are strong in this book but, probably because of the strong Buddhist themes, it’s not too preachy or polarizing.

I’m seeing a real trend in the cyberpunk, speculative fiction genre around nano-tech and enhanced cognition. The Last Firewall by William Hertling, (which I’ll be reviewing shortly) is another recent book with the same theme and I’m sure there’s many others (leave me a note in the comments if you know of others).

Nexus really pushes the boundary on speculative fiction, and when you consider the author’s own past and technical background with tech and nano-tech, you realize that this book might not be so crazy after all.

And like all great scifi this book is as much about humanity and how we will deal with the changes that technology brings as it is about the technology.

The premise is around a new drug called Nexus which is really a nano-tech enhancement that allows users to interface with each other and to feel and know what each other knows.

The evil and harmful applications of this kind of drug are obvious and the book doesn’t shy away from them. Naam doesn’t try and convince us that in this future world everything will be okay. He also doesn’t try and convince us that everything will be horrible. As a technologist Naam is obviously optimistic about the future and believes that the good will outweigh the bad like it always has.

The sequel, Crux, is already out and the early reports I’ve been getting from my friends is that it’s even better than Nexus. I’m excited to read it and look forward to a long and promising writing career from Naam.

If you’ve read either of these let me know what you think.

(This is a repost. I am closing down a book review blog and moving the few posts I made over here.) 

These are my Friday night plans. And maybe watching Invader Zim.

These are my Friday night plans. And maybe watching Invader Zim.

Forget Terminator: The robots of the apocalypse could be squishy

You don’t need metal rods and motors to build a capable robot. A new bot developed by MIT scientists gets around on four floppy, squishy legs and can survive water, snow and being run over by a car.

I actually have an unfinished story about a squishy robot. It’s a biobot, but this is still cool. 

Forget Terminator: The robots of the apocalypse could be squishy

You don’t need metal rods and motors to build a capable robot. A new bot developed by MIT scientists gets around on four floppy, squishy legs and can survive water, snow and being run over by a car.

I actually have an unfinished story about a squishy robot. It’s a biobot, but this is still cool. 

Boneshaker and the Clockwork Century: Where Steampunk Began For Me

Sometime in 2009 I was walking through the Eliot Bay Book Company in Seattle when I stumbled across the local authors section and discovered Boneshaker by then local (and since moved away) author Cherie Priest.

I had heard of steampunk and understood the basics of the genre, but hadn’t explored it much. But this was set in an alternate history Seattle (hey I’m in Seattle) and had Zombies (hey I like zombies) so I figured I couldn’t go wrong. And I was right, I instantly fell in love with the book.

Cherie Priest is a fun to read author. She isn’t overly wordy or flowery but she isn’t too direct or minimalist either. Her prose strikes a nice balance where the cadance and rythm matches closely to normal speach but not in an obvious way. It’s just natural to read, the words don’t get in the way of the story.

Her characters are very grounded, they’re not extrodanairy, they’re not special or chosen, they’re mostly people who come from rough backgrounds and are trying to make the best of their lives. Her antagonists aren’t cliche and the protagonists are flawed. Both or endearing and likeable.

The story itself is, of course, the best part. It’s original both from regular scifi and (as I’d learn much later) from traditional steampunk. Yes there’s lots of steam and gears and flying machines but there’s no victorian England.

Seattle is a walled city filled with a deadly gas and zombies and the dissenfranchised living below street level. The civil war didn’t end when it was supposed to end, Texas is it’s own country and the West is still the wild frontier.

Boneshaker is just the first of many stories and books, that make up the Clockwork Century series. Each one builds off of each other but also stands alone (more or less). Each book takes minor characters from the last book and makes them leads in the next book, letting former leads become supporting cast in subsequent books. They move all over the US and end up creating an amazing tapestry of Steampunk America.

I’ve actually just received the last installment (maybe) from Cherie Priest,Fiddlehead, and have yet to start on it because I don’t want the series to come to an end. Cherie doesn’t definitively close the door on the series but she also doesn’t promise anymore. So we’ll just have to sit back and hope that she’ll have a change of heart once she gets to explore some of her other ideas.

Maybe she’ll even open up the Clockwork Century for other authors to explore? One can always hope.

If you’re a fan of steampunk and you haven’t checked out this series yet, you really should. And if you have yet to jump into the genre, this is a really good place to start.

(This is a repost. I am closing down a book review blog and moving the few posts I made over here.) 

Neuromancer: Where Cyberpunk Began For Me

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I don’t remember when I first read Neuromancer. It was either late high school (late 80′s) or early college (early 90′s), but I remember well when my friend Jason recommended it to me. We were at his house and he told me about it and showed me the book. I remember reading the first few pages and it was like something written in a different language. I was mostly reading fantasy up until that point and ever since reading Neuromancer, I’ve rarely read any fantasy since. I’ve been a sci-fi convert ever since.

It’s hard to write a review about Neuromancer, because so much has been written about it and it’s so impactful of a book (see the Amazon and Goodreads review). I can safely say that our world today wouldn’t be the same if this book hadn’t been written. It’s impact on how “cyberspace” a.k.a. the Internet developed is undeniable. This book created a framework for the way that every geek who read it would think about the way the Internet should be.

And even if you never read this book, every sci-fi book that came after it was so impacted by it that the entire genre was changed. I’m not just talking about the creation of the cyberpunk genre, but all of science fiction.

Before William Gibson and his contemporaries, science fiction was mostly about space and spaceships and aliens. Sci-fi books mostly resembled Star Trek. After this we started to see more and more types of science and tech integrated into our science fiction.

With cyberpunk our own world became an alien planet and we became the aliens. Science fiction was no longer about outer space but about the strange future that science could create here on Earth.

And no, William Gibson and this book weren’t solely responsible for this change. You can’t deny the impact that the movie Blade Runner (which was based off Philip Dick’s, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) had on Neuromancer.

If you haven’t read the book yet and you decide to now, something you’ll notice is how familiar it seems. I had the same problem when I just went back and read Enders Game last year.  I had never read it before but when I did it all seemed so familiar because it so impacted everything that came after it. Neuromancer suffers the same fate.

What changed for me was looking at writing and sci-fi as a way to explore not only the future but ourselves. How would we react to the changes we were bringing on ourselves. That’s one of the interesting things about cyberpunk for me, it’s not just about the plot and the characters, but sometimes the setting – the world the author creates – is just as important or even the most important part of the whole story. If you get that then you tend to love the genre, if not you probably don’t.

(This is a repost. I am closing down a book review blog and moving the few posts I made over here.)

More millennials read a book last year than older Americans, proving the Internet hasn’t ruined everything

According to a new Pew study, knowledge and the written word can’t be so easily defeated. Despite embracing technology more than their elders, the study found that millennials were more likely to have read a book, either in digital form or on dead trees, in the past year than Americans over 30. Even more surprising is the fact that more young people believe there is important information that can’t be found on the Internet than their forebears.

Alright all you slacker Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers - pick up a book! You’re making us look bad! 

More millennials read a book last year than older Americans, proving the Internet hasn’t ruined everything

According to a new Pew study, knowledge and the written word can’t be so easily defeated. Despite embracing technology more than their elders, the study found that millennials were more likely to have read a book, either in digital form or on dead trees, in the past year than Americans over 30. Even more surprising is the fact that more young people believe there is important information that can’t be found on the Internet than their forebears.

Alright all you slacker Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers - pick up a book! You’re making us look bad! 

What will our world look like in 2022?

Predicting the future is hard and risky. Predicting the future in the computer industry is even harder and riskier due to dramatic changes in technology and limitless challenges to innovation. Only a small fraction of innovations truly disrupt the state of the art. Therefore this document is only an attempt to better understand where technologies are going. 

via brucesterling: “It pains me to watch real engineers working this hard on futurist speculation.”

What will our world look like in 2022?

Predicting the future is hard and risky. Predicting the future in the computer industry is even harder and riskier due to dramatic changes in technology and limitless challenges to innovation. Only a small fraction of innovations truly disrupt the state of the art. Therefore this document is only an attempt to better understand where technologies are going. 

via brucesterling: “It pains me to watch real engineers working this hard on futurist speculation.”

(Source: brucesterling)

For Sale Soon: The World’s First Google Glass Detector

Later this month, Oliver says he’ll start taking pre-orders for Cyborg Unplug, a gadget no bigger than a laptop charger that plugs into a wall and patrols the local Wi-Fi network for connected Google Glass devices, along with other potential surveillance gadgets like Google Dropcams, Wi-Fi-enabled drone copters, and certain wireless microphones. When it detects one of those devices, it can be programmed to flash an alert with an LED light, play a sound through connected speakers, and even ping the Cyborg Unplug owner’s smartphone through an Android app, as well as silently booting those potential spy devices from the network.
Oliver says Cyborg Unplug will also offer an “All Out Mode.” With that more aggressive setting switched on, the plug will seek out and disconnect nearby surveillance devices on any network it connects to, including Glass’s wireless connection to their owners’ phones. That’s a more legally ambiguous use of the gadget that Oliver says he doesn’t recommend. “Please note that this latter mode may not be legal within your jurisdiction,” reads a disclaimer on Cyborg Unplug’s website. “We take no responsibility for the trouble you get yourself into if you choose to deploy your Cyborg Unplug in this mode.”

The privacy wars are escalating. The alarm feature is interesting. But I find it most interesting that the device is capable of scanning and connecting to non-owned networks. I assume those networks will need to be open. If this is somehow able to block devices on secure connections that would be really interesting from a rights perspective. And of course, this does nothing for people storing pictures and media locally without being connected to Wi-Fi. 

For Sale Soon: The World’s First Google Glass Detector

Later this month, Oliver says he’ll start taking pre-orders for Cyborg Unplug, a gadget no bigger than a laptop charger that plugs into a wall and patrols the local Wi-Fi network for connected Google Glass devices, along with other potential surveillance gadgets like Google Dropcams, Wi-Fi-enabled drone copters, and certain wireless microphones. When it detects one of those devices, it can be programmed to flash an alert with an LED light, play a sound through connected speakers, and even ping the Cyborg Unplug owner’s smartphone through an Android app, as well as silently booting those potential spy devices from the network.

Oliver says Cyborg Unplug will also offer an “All Out Mode.” With that more aggressive setting switched on, the plug will seek out and disconnect nearby surveillance devices on any network it connects to, including Glass’s wireless connection to their owners’ phones. That’s a more legally ambiguous use of the gadget that Oliver says he doesn’t recommend. “Please note that this latter mode may not be legal within your jurisdiction,” reads a disclaimer on Cyborg Unplug’s website. “We take no responsibility for the trouble you get yourself into if you choose to deploy your Cyborg Unplug in this mode.”

The privacy wars are escalating. The alarm feature is interesting. But I find it most interesting that the device is capable of scanning and connecting to non-owned networks. I assume those networks will need to be open. If this is somehow able to block devices on secure connections that would be really interesting from a rights perspective. And of course, this does nothing for people storing pictures and media locally without being connected to Wi-Fi. 

Brain-to-brain verbal communication in humans achieved for the first time
Someday this will be incredibly impactful in treating non/less-verbal patients, ranging from coma patients to children with autism. 

Brain-to-brain verbal communication in humans achieved for the first time

Someday this will be incredibly impactful in treating non/less-verbal patients, ranging from coma patients to children with autism. 

Research hints at why stress is more devastating for some

Some people take stress in stride; others are done in by it. New research at Rockefeller University has identified the molecular mechanisms of this so-called stress gap in mice with very similar genetic backgrounds — a finding that could lead researchers to better understand the development of psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and depression.
“Currently, depression is diagnosed only by its symptoms,” Nasca says. “But these results put us on track to discover molecular signatures in humans that may have the potential to serve as markers for certain types of depression. Our work could also lead to a new generation of rapidly acting antidepressants, such as the candidate acetyl carnitine, which would be particularly important to reduce the risk of suicide.”


I have always wondered why some people deal with stress better than others. 
via neurosciencestuff

Research hints at why stress is more devastating for some

Some people take stress in stride; others are done in by it. New research at Rockefeller University has identified the molecular mechanisms of this so-called stress gap in mice with very similar genetic backgrounds — a finding that could lead researchers to better understand the development of psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and depression.

“Currently, depression is diagnosed only by its symptoms,” Nasca says. “But these results put us on track to discover molecular signatures in humans that may have the potential to serve as markers for certain types of depression. Our work could also lead to a new generation of rapidly acting antidepressants, such as the candidate acetyl carnitine, which would be particularly important to reduce the risk of suicide.”

I have always wondered why some people deal with stress better than others. 

via neurosciencestuff

Piper at the Gates of Hell: An Interview with Cyberpunk Legend John Shirley
An excellent interview of an inspirational author. To me, John Shirley is to Cyberpunk what Nitzer Ebb was to Industrial music. Everyone knows about William Gibson, the Nine Inch Nails of Cyberpunk, but not as many people know about John Shirley/Nitzer Ebb and how foundational they were to their respective genres. 
via motherboardtv

Piper at the Gates of Hell: An Interview with Cyberpunk Legend John Shirley

An excellent interview of an inspirational author. To me, John Shirley is to Cyberpunk what Nitzer Ebb was to Industrial music. Everyone knows about William Gibson, the Nine Inch Nails of Cyberpunk, but not as many people know about John Shirley/Nitzer Ebb and how foundational they were to their respective genres. 

via motherboardtv

NASA developing automated air traffic control system for drones.

“One at a time you can make them work and keep them safe,” Parimal H. Kopardekar, a NASA principal investigator, tells the Times. “But when you have a number of them in operation in the same airspace, there is no infrastructure to support it.”

This is something than can be both powerfully enabling as well as powerfully abused. Either through hacking or as a means to exclude people or organizations from participating. It will depend on how this is used. 
h/t GeekWire

NASA developing automated air traffic control system for drones.

“One at a time you can make them work and keep them safe,” Parimal H. Kopardekar, a NASA principal investigator, tells the Times. “But when you have a number of them in operation in the same airspace, there is no infrastructure to support it.”

This is something than can be both powerfully enabling as well as powerfully abused. Either through hacking or as a means to exclude people or organizations from participating. It will depend on how this is used. 

h/t GeekWire

With $30M in New Funding, IFTTT Looks to Automate the Internet of Things
Great news about about a great company. I’m a huge fan of IFTTT, can’t wait to see what they do next. 

With $30M in New Funding, IFTTT Looks to Automate the Internet of Things

Great news about about a great company. I’m a huge fan of IFTTT, can’t wait to see what they do next.