Friday, March 24, 2017

Cirsova Four, Part Six

Shadow Vision

Preston Dennett’s tale of an outcast, a half-mad sage, and a young girl exploring a land plagued by a near-sentient darkness gives the reader plenty of mystery, magic, action, and even romance, but his delivery never rises above workmanlike.  Dennett writes impending doom well.  He writes casual banter well. The decision to do both at the same time in this story doesn’t allow either of those skills to truly shine.
He conveys a real sense of malice and ever present danger within the dark lands that are the setting for most of this short story, but the frequent sly winks at the reader and the light, teasing behavior of the characters provides a jarring contrast.  As a result, the story cannot seem to decide if it wants to be a dark and harrowing journey, or an amusing lark into mystery, and the lack of clear focus prevents this story from taking full advantage of Dennett’s talents.

The Ride

As any old school gamer knows, there’s nothing like a dungeon crawl.  Edward McDermmott spins this short tale of a man pursued by demons of the literal sort who trap the hero of the piece inside the sort of dungeon that would do any DM proud.  The dungeon crawler explores a large complex and faces the usual sorts of troubles. He needs light, faces unseen things that scrabble in the dark, encounters bizarre lost shrines to long forgotten gods, and discovers hidden doors through clever observation.  He even faces danger of a far more alluring kind.  Overall, a tight and compact story, but the challenge of temptation faced by the brave adventurer, and the ending of his troubles in the dungeon, feel a little rushed, even by the standards of short fiction. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Fake Arguments

Brace yourself for incoming stupidity, internet. 

Recently, the Supreme Dark Lord explained why the appellation "fake" is a two-megaton blast of nuclear rhetoric.  Within 48 hours, I'd already seen the peanut gallery wielding the term "fake" in a hamfisted, Peebee-esque manner.
Never change, Mass Effect.  Never change.
Here's a helpful reminder for everyone:

Remember, the most effective
rhetoric is founded in truth.
 
That's not me, that's from Vox's post.

The "fake" shot only hits home when the person you're wielding it against knows, deep down in the depths of their soul, that they are lying.  The fake news casters hate the term because they know, deep down, that what they are peddling is lies.  The fake Americans know, deep down, that the piece of paper they hold doesn't negate their third world views.  Those who have fake marriages know, deep down, that what they have is a pale imitation of the real thing.

So when a fumble-brained dolt tries to claim that Catholics are fake Christians, it doesn't cause Catholics to recoil in anger and outrage.  Lousy Pope or no, we know we're the real deal, so all that dig elicits is an eye-roll and a little bit of sympathy for the window licker who lithped it out.

It's worse than that, though.  Words have power, and every time you use them, it saps them of a little bit of their power.  Even if you use them erroneously, it adds a little  familiarity and breeds a littleemore contempt. 

For a classic example, look at how fast Pepe went from hilarious and effective to yesterday's news.  Oh, you still see it around.  It's still the face of the edgelords.  (Is that 4chan, /pol/, I'm too old to have anything more than a vague notion of what stork delivers these dank memes.)  But ever since the YouTube opportunists trotted out their little Kekistan schtick, complete with pre-loaded swag that you, yes you, can buy for the low, low price of...you get the idea.  Ignore the fact that those dullards decided to force a meme, they decided to give the land of Pepe - the face of the big, beautiful wall, the face of the alt-Right - an Islamic state suffix.  Talk about tin-eared. 

Meme magic might be real, but it relies on the newness and freshness of the matter.  It's like the f-bomb.  When people who drop the f-bomb on a regular basis have to elevate their language, they have no where to go.  They've already shot their wad on trivial matters, and now that they need to signal that things just got real...they've got nothing.

When a square like me drops that f-bomb, everyone gets real quiet.  If you don't waste it, it's magic.

That's as true of the word 'fake' as it is the f-word that you can't say on television.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Public Service Announcement

These two books are nothing alike.
 
Just Whomever's book is a biting parody filled with in-jokes and digs at John Scalzi.  It's a fevered dream, descent into madness style narrative that barely hangs together, by design.

Johann Kalsi's book is a fantastic work of science fiction that could easily have been published and marketed without tapping into the thick, syrupy schadenfreude swirling around the release of Scalzi's The Collapsing Empire.  I received a review copy of this book, and I'm glad I did, because the advertising turned me off - I'm not a fan of Asimov - and without it, I might have missed out on an interesting read.

The Amazon blurb brags that, "Kalsi shows himself to be more Asimovian than Asimov himself."

I wouldn't go quite that far.  The Corroding Empire fails as an Asimov pastiche (tribute?) in a few ways.  It features a long string of characters who are well rounded and relatable.  It doesn't contain a strong undercurrent of smug superiority over the poor, benighted hoi polloi.  It doesn't make a case that the world would be a better place if only the poor, benighted hoi polloi would turn their every decision process over to the technocrats who really do know better than they what's best for them.
 
What it does contain are seventeen short stories and vignettes that document the long, slow, slide of a galactic empire into chaos as a small coding error multiplies and ripples out through the vast, interconnected networks that control everything in the galaxy.  Some of the stories are simple character studies.  Some are rip-snorting action.  Some consist mainly of people standing around talking.  You know, about science-stuff.
 
Even better, it's not about impartial technocrats willing to allow trillions to suffer NOW because it will make life better for people 900 years from now.  Instead, it's the stories of those who fight and struggle to make life better for the people suffering through the long, slow decline.  Even if they cannot fix the galaxy, they still do everything they can to fix their own little corner of it, to hold the threads of civilization together for just a little while longer.
 
And in that way, this isn't Asimov.  It's something far better.

In the interests of full disclosure, I might not be smart enough to fully enjoy this book.  The 17 stories are all tied together by a few recurring threads, the most notable of which is a robot named Servo, and while I did realize that these recurring threads are there, I wasn't able to really lock down all of the connections.  Place names that I thought were throw-away's turned out to be much more important than expected, for example, and while I'm smart enough to recognize the import of such things, in many cases, I couldn't tie them together in any coherent way.

That didn't lessen my enjoyment of the book at all, though.  Each story stands on its own just fine, and the common threads that run through them do provide a framework for understanding, even for a dullard like me.  But then, those subtle clues that pay off later in one way increase my appreciation for the work because they just make me want to read it again.  And rare indeed is the book that you finish, and can't wait to turn back to page one and read it all over again.