Friday, March 19, 2010

Book: Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

A young adult book, with the stylistic bluntness that target often implies. Still an entertaining quest story with African overtones. If I knew any 13-year olds I might give them this book.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Book: Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia

Workwomanlike steampunk.

Book: Flesh and Fire by Laura Anne Gilman

Six of six in my reading of Nebula Nominees. This is a more than competent fantasy novel. There's an interesting hook: magic is tied in with wine. Certain grapes provide the basis for certain kinds of magic--one syrahesque grape is used to heal wounds, for example.

This is the first in a trilogy, and the story's just getting going by the end of this volume. I fear that the main characters are heading out on a quest as this part of the story ends, but the background as yet is at least rich enough that I've put the next volume on my list of books to watch out for.

One issue I have is that like so many fantasy characters, the hero of this story has tremendous innate talent for magic. Just once I'd like to have a hero outside of Pratchett who's not a naturally gifted swordsman or mage.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Book: The Love We Share Without Knowing by Chistopher Barzak

Nebula Nominees 5 of 6. An intertwined set of story fragments set in Japan, this book has only the subtlest hint of fantasy, or speculativeness, or whatever the quality is that makes a book eligible for the Nebulas. Assuming, that is, that there's not a whole level of fantasy or ghostiness or magical realism I missed.

It's exceedingly well written, but not particularly speculative.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Art: Wafaa Bilal

I saw this guy speak last night at the Art Institute. Amazing.

He's Iraqi, and his brother was killed by an American missile. One day, he saw on TV an interview with an American technician who controls drones (and their triggers) from a computer in Colorado. When asked if she had any doubts, she said no, she trusts her orders.

His response was to make some pretty impressive, but also very funny, art.

Shoot an Iraqi, for example, hooked up a paintball gun to the internet. Visitors could shoot at Bilal. He stayed in the space for a month, occasionally becoming pretty unglued. One offshoot of that was the Virtual Human Shield group, who organized to try to keep the gun pointed away from him.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Book: Finch by Jeff VanderMeer

#4 of 6 in my project of reading the Nebula nominees.

VanderMeer creates a world where humans are dominated by a race of mushroomesque creatures called Grey Caps. They are masters of fungus, which sounds odd, but makes for a spore-filled world that'd make David Cronenberg feel a little squicky.

There are previous books set in the same universe. Still not sure I'll read them.

Margaret Atwood on why we need science fiction

In the Guardian

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Movie: Company of Wolves

There's a new Little Red Riding Hood movie being made, and on some blog (io9, maybe?), this movie was cited as a good psychological previous version of the story.

Um, no.

A couple good gross-out sequences, but overall I could have happily lived my life without ever having known this film existed. It was made in the 80s, but feels like a refugee from the early seventies.

Book: I.O.U.: why everyone owes everyone and no one can pay by John Lanchester.

The story of what went wrong and caused the financial collapse.

Basically: too much leverage, fucked up incentive structures, poor or non-existent regulation. Not much new here, other than interesting parallels with the UK and other European countries.

I think the author (possibly to insulate himself from charges of being anti-capitalist) misses two important issues. He cheerleads for consumer capitalism without giving more than lip service to inequality. He also doesn;t have much in terms of a solution, other than bank nationalization. He gives a few reasons why that's unlikely, but misses the main one: that the banksters have too much political influence to let that happen.

He does make one important point, though. When there was a "socialist" world and a capitalist one, the former was forced to rein in the worst aspects of capitalism, so as not to lose what he calls "the beauty contest". I think this is true, and it's a point that does not get made often enough.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Book: The Devil's Alphabet by Darryl Gregory

A mysterious disease transforms the residents of a southern town into three different kinds of strange people: Alphas, 8 feet tall and brutally strong; Betas, seal-like and self-reproducing; and Charlies, short, huge, and strong.

Great setup, not really a stunning story.