Tag Archives: futurism

Book Review: Architects of Emortality (Brian Stableford 1999)

Note: in this review, I mostly limit comments to the intro and  first chapter (65 pages in this case).

Rating: 1.5/5 stars

Architects of Emortality by Brian Stableford is the fourth book of the Emortality series and my first Stableford book. I am still unclear on the significance of “emortal” versus “immortal”, but otherwise, the book stood alone without reading the first three books. Architects of Emortality is set in the late 2400s. Life can be extended via technology, but for most, 200 years is roughly the limit. Due to a recent technological advancements, the next generation may be immortal, but only those treated before birth can partake. The book opens with a murder and the subsequent investigation of that murder.

Architects of Emortality had interesting world-building and intriguing ideas, but it had three big flaws: 1) the characters were flat and uninteresting, 2) the language was distracting, and 3) the female roles flat-out sucked. Not every sci-fi reader cares as much about character development as I do; if you enjoy big worlds with far-reaching ideas, this may very well be a book you will enjoy. For me, it felt out-of-date though it’s only from 1999.

The book opens with investigator Charlotte Holmes at the scene of Gabriel King’s murder. His murder is unusual; murders are uncommon in this future, and King has been consumed by flowers clean down to the bone. Video shows that a beautiful young woman visited just before the murder, bearing unusual flowers. Holmes, the protagonist, is a young sergeant and assistant to Hal Watson, who investigates from afar using the resources of the web. A minor spoiler: Holmes does nothing but fret about her limits as an investigator; she travels and observes but never acts. Her uselessness fuels complaints #1 and #3, above. Stableford draws attention to the fact that she is Charlotte Holmes by having a Watson. A famously clever investigator’s name suggests that Holmes will be at the center of solving the murder mystery, and that she will be clever. Neither is true. Most of the insights come from Oscar Wilde, a flamboyant flower designer with ties to the murder who travels with Holmes during the investigation. Holmes is an appendage to whom Wilde muses.

Other than Holmes, the only significant woman in the book is the murderess. We learn little about her; she is beautiful and young and acting on the behalf of someone else. All other significant characters are men; they are mostly experts of various kinds. Where Holmes is insecure and a hard-nosed investigator and little else, Oscar Wilde enjoys 19th century literature, designs flowers, and is beautiful, vain, and eccentric. He has opinions about everything, and he likes to make people uncomfortable with those opinions. He is better characterized than Holmes, but still a bit flat. If I imagined a future botanist version based on my thin knowledge of 19th century Oscar Wilde, this Oscar Wilde is about what I’d imagine. But he is still infinitely more rich than Holmes.

That pretty well covers my first and third complaints about the book. Finally, I found the language in this book excessively self-aware, and at times plain obnoxious. Instead of engaging in the story, I was rolling my eyes at word choice. I dog-eared the worst example from about halfway through the book (not a spoiler):

 “I saw it,” Charlotte said wearily. “Was there something significant I should have taken note of?” She knew that she ought not to end sentences with prepositions, but thought that the stress of the situation made the infelicity forgivable.

This occurs immediately after the characters have had a brush with death. Not only is the preposition rule a garbage grammar rule cribbed from Latinwho cares at such a time? The quote above is just the most egregious example of pompous language undercutting the impact of events in the book. Only one line of dialogue earlier she is described as “profoundly shaken.” Also, to describe near-death as “infelicity”… I had to put the book down for a bit.

On a final positive note, the ideas in the book are rich and passionate, which is why I gave it 1.5 instead of 1 stars. These ideas include longevity technology, artistic expression, bio-engineering, what a far-reaching future might look like, and how people might find identity in a far future. It also explored how people handle death, how the media might look in a distant future, what our current tendencies toward oligarchy might lead to, what a crime might be in the future, and what nature might be in the future. Truly, it covers a lot of bases conceptually. But for me, it was on the back of lackluster characters with distracting language. I felt that the author cared far more about the concepts than his vehicles for breathing life into them. The useless female characters also damaged the sense of futurism; an avid fan of classic scifi learns to forgive empty doe-eyed ladies in 60s novels, but in a novel written in 1999 that’s just too much. I won’t be looking for Stableford in my reading future.

More Awesome NASA Space Travel Posters

Thinking about a trip to Mars or Ceres? Book today! Don’t forget to ask about your Pi Day discount.

NASA is in the travel agent business again! JPL released travel posters for Mars, Venus, Jupiter, and several moons. They explore some different styles from the first set, and are cool as hell. Below are some of the preview sizes. They are available to download free at high res, suitable for printing up to 20″ x 30″.

And if you’re a vintage poster enthusiast like me, also check out the Library of Congress site. Tons of WPA posters are available free at high res, among other historical documents. (Beware, though, their site requires patience. It’s not organized for quick browsing, but there are some real gems in their collection. I linked to some of my favorites in this old post. I decorated my bathroom with them. Yes, I have a poster about syphilis in my bathroom.)  And finally, the National Parks posters are amazing vintage posters, though they aren’t free. I just made a few of my own last week.

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Proof! I did indeed print and hang the travel posters. Also in this room: a tea towel with a graphic of the Very Large Array (VLA). Nerd factor infinity!

Writing prompt: Turning 200

Time: 7 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

(A quick aside: travel this month has damaged the regularity of my posting, but I am back now, with a Monday post and a Thursday writing prompt.)

“turning 200” (this prompt inspired by my grandmother-in-law’s recent 90th birthday.)

Heather surveyed the room of happy faces, here for her birthday party. She wasn’t the first person to turn 200, but she was the first she knew. She had lived a healthy life, reaching 95 before the longevity treatments became available. Since then it had been smoothing sailing. She didn’t feel a day over 65. Physically.

Several of her great-great-great-great grandchildren played across the room. She mostly didn’t know their names or the names of their parents. That was odd to realize. When she had an expiration date, the young had seemed like the greatest investment she could make, the only real way to some kind of reach beyond the grave. Now that she was still around… well even the 100 year olds had so much to learn. Apparently the country agreed with the average age in the senate at 120.

The guests sang happy birthday, and Heather sat politely through it. She could bear anything with equanimity. She had time. After cake, she checked the news, something to do.

Third bicentennial dies under unknown circumstances, one headline read. She pushed the article up. The authorities couldn’t tell what had killed the man. A scientist sourced noted how little was known about the physiology of the extremely aged, due to small sample size. The three cases would be researched extensively, no doubt.

Heather had faced death before. But now she quaked in her chair. If the treatments had limits, she would surely face them before they were solved. She wasn’t prepared. She had been before, resolved to her fate for decades. She walked out of the celebration. There were things to do.

Writing prompt: Pop-up People

Time: 7 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“Pop-up people”

Light speed was a drag—it left the far colonies as alien to us as Victorians from Flappers. So when GE broke the barrier, a cheer went up. There was more celebration than when Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic. But the scientists soon realized the limitations to their ©SuperWarp Field. No space more than a cubic millimeter could exceed light speed. We had communication, but no transportation.

Every attempt to spread the field beyond a cubic millimeter failed, often disastrously. Finally another idea arose—if the field couldn’t grow larger, maybe the object could grow smaller. The nucleus is compact enough, but around it, electrons swim in a luxuriant, and frankly wasteful, vacuum.

Using the repulsive nature of dark matter, Sandia devised a way to compress matter as in a neutron star. Suddenly, a cubic millimeter was a damned fine amount of space. We sent little grains of rice to the colonies, full of a thousand people and a multitude of machinery in compression stasis.

The pop-up people went to the stars.

Book Review: Holy Fire (Bruce Sterling 1996)

Note: in this review, I spoil nothing past the first 20-30 pages or so. You can see more reviews and an excerpt of the book here.

Rating: 4/5 stars

I really enjoyed “Holy Fire”. Though it is high-tech, low life in the fashion of cyberpunk, I found the characters much more believable than most cyberpunk books. The characters still have ambitions and hopes and don’t just spend their time dwelling on how awful life is (any more than we do now). The book is set about 100 years in the future, in a society where the very elderly call the shots and society is about collectively minimized risk and efficiency. The main character, Mia, is an elderly woman who partakes in a medical procedure to extend her life, and her subsequent adventures. Mia struggles with the effect on the young of a society dominated by the old and her own risk-averse tendencies. Along the way she meets a lot of fun people.

Before I read “Holy Fire”, I was aware of Bruce Sterling and his reputation as a cyberpunk author. I had read the canonical cyberpunk work “Neuromancer” by Gibson, and I was not impressed. Cyberpunk seemed just like rebranding dystopia. But a friend (check out her well-received science fiction work here) loaned me “Holy Fire” by Bruce Sterling, so I read it.

The book is also populated with cool gadgets that are irrelevant but colorful. Sterling doesn’t dwell on any particular one, and the book is peppered with fun droplets of future tech. There is a dog that has been technologically enhanced to be able to talk, but in the fashion that a dog might. There are cities built of edible bio-materials. There are programmable wigs.

Ultimately, I’m not sure if the book hangs together fully in the end for me. I’m not sure if the tales of Mia add up to say something to me. So perhaps it is not a masterpiece. But I enjoyed it thoroughly the entire time I was reading it, which is a rarity. Also a vivid female protagonist is nice (this was actually why my friend recommended the book). To anyone interested, I would definitely recommend a read.