Thursday, September 27, 2012

Earth Unaware - in which we meet the Formics

Earth Unaware
(The First Formic War - Vol 1 of 3)
Orson Scott Card & Aaron Johnston

Macmillan Audio Book from TOR
(unabridged 14 hours)

Read by Stefan Rudnicki & Cast

In Earth Unaware, a ship of free miners are attacked by a greedy clan, then spot their first alien vessel - and it's headed to Earth!

Victor Delgado must lose his best friend at the outset because his family suspects they have feelings for each other. In this closed community, marriages are made with other clans on other ships, presumably to prevent inbreeding. She is shipped off to marry into an Italian clan. Victor decides to jump ship and head for Earth as he realizes that the family was right and that his memories are too strong there.

Victor and his family suffer one loss after another in their fight with first the powerful family that bumps the asteroid they are mining away from them and then with the aliens they try to stop from reaching the Earth.I suppose there are a number of spoilers in this short paragraph, but this is all back story for the Ender Saga which most of us are already familiar with.

It's rather hard to tell who the protagonist is because several others get almost equal air time. Victor is the only sympathetic character, however.

I appreciated that life in the frontier of space is painted as tragic. Sacrifices are made, people are lost, life is hard. How could it be otherwise? I also appreciated the fact that this mining in the Keiper belt is happening while things on Earth remain much the same. Not because I think things are peachy and should stay the same, but because it suggests the possibility of routine space travel in a not-too-distant future.

I have a soft spot for first contact and this one met most of my expectations in that regard.

The voices of the readers held my attention and changed their tone and inflection with each character just enough to make it easy to follow and easy on the ears. I have to say that I recently tried to listen to an audio book for review and had to stop just a quarter of the way in. I couldn't take the whiny tone that the narrator used for the female characters a second longer.

A lot of the story threads thrown in to this volume don't go much of anywhere, which I found a little annoying. I'm sure the authors were establishing them for future adventures in the succeeding two volumes, but the fact that their paths didn't cross much or at all in this volume made it seem like quite a detour at times.

I loved that the TOR included an interview at the end of the book. However, I could have done a much better job. Perhaps it wasn't done in real time, but there are still ways to avoid this unfortunate situation. When you interview someone you have a list of questions handy. If they answer question number two while they are answering the first question, you don't proceed to ask it, unless you acknowledge their statement and ask them to elaborate instead. In addition, that first question was: "Who are your favorite authors?" I wish they could have come up with a more original question that Card hasn't already answered a million times before. By the way, there are only two questions.

I still recommend the book for readers who never tire of the Ender universe.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Stranger - and Scarier - than Fiction

Science Fiction and Other ODDysseys, or rather Ann Wilkes, was the victim of a burglary. The jewels I can live without. I'm hoping the insurance will not weasel out of covering the nearly new, not recently backed-up MacBookPro. Between that and my short-term gig as Volunteer Coordinator for the Sonoma County Book Festival, SFOO has suffered a bit. I'm breaking my silence with a post that is someone less than science fictional, but falls under the category of "you can't make this stuff (changed from shit for the tender-eared readers) up".

When I still had my lovely MacBookPro, I was unable to print wirelessly. I finally decided that that was getting a bit old - especially since I wanted to retire the desktop computer. So, several online chats later, Lexmark gives up. They don't know why I can't print wirelessly. Huh. This is after they made me wait two days while the team tried to recreate the conditions and fix the problem. Of course they made me rehash what we already did in spite of the fact that the problem ticket already existed. Just gave up. We don't know. Turns out it may have been the wireless router. I know this now because we had trouble with it when trying to get the desktop back up and running after the burglary. That two-hour ordeal included one useless call to Linksys, a call to the ISP, then another call to Linksys, (this time speaking to someone who actually knew what he was doing).

So, then the one piece of software I still didn't have on my beloved, now-stolen laptop was Quickbooks. I was using Quicken on the desktop and decided since I needed to buy software, why not think long-term? You know, to when I'm actually making so much money as a writer I need business software to track it all. :)

I swear on my first edition copy of Vernor Vinge's Fire Under the Deep that this is the actual chat conversation that was emailed to me. It doesn't say I can't share it with you all, so hopefully Intuit won't get bent out of shape. But we can all hope they'll get better customer service chatters. And how much you want to bet that the operator wasn't named "Lois"? By the way, it was all a moot point just three short days later. That's when I was burglarized.

General Info
Chat start time Sep 4, 2012 10:14:02 PM EST
Chat end time Sep 4, 2012 10:31:32 PM EST
Duration (actual chatting time) 00:17:30
Operator Lois
Chat Transcript
info: Please wait for a Chat Consultant to respond. Your wait time will be approximately 0 minute(s) and 1 second(s).
info: Welcome to QuickBooks Sales Chat. You are now chatting with 'Lois'. I'll be your QuickBooks Business Consultant. How can I help you today?
Lois: You're very much welcome! It's been a pleasure chatting with you today! When you leave this chat you will be offered a brief survey. Please click the “Close” button to end the chat. Your feedback is important to us, so that we can serve you better in the future. Have a wonderful day!
Lois: Sorry.
you: I have been using Quicken for a long time. I'm a writer who is not yet making a profit. Is Quick Books overkill?
Lois: Thank you for choosing to chat with QuickBooks Desktop Sales, my name is Lois. May I have your name please?
you: Ann
Lois: Hello there and pleased to meet you online Ann! How may I assist you?
you: I can transfer my Quicken data to Quickbooks, right?
you: Is it an upgrade if I have Quicken?
Lois: Yes you can transfer the data. You will have to convert the files first.
you: are there online tutorials to learn how to integrate with turbotax? Convert files to what? And how? I have a recent backup.
Lois: For that, just to set your expectations, you have reached the Desktop Sales team and I may not be able to address your concern. What I can do is provide you our Technical Support team number to better assist you.
Lois: Here's the number. 800-825-8168
you: So, do I get an upgrade price if I'm converting from Quicken?
you: I will, but please answer my other questions first.
you: there are two other unanswered questions
you: upgrade? and tutorials.
Lois: No. It will be the wamr. 20% discounted price.
you: OK and if I am only dealing with expenses and royalties in addition to regular personal stuff and no mortgage or other interest payments, is Quicken still a better fit?
Lois: Yes that's right.
you: what's right? Quicken is better for my needs?
Lois: You're most welcome. Would there be anything else that I may assist you with?
you: R U serious? You haven't answered any of my questions! Focus!
you: I didn't thank you either.
Lois: Quicken is designed for personal finances while QuickBooks is more on business.
you: Get your conversations straight or give me to someone who's paying better attention.
you: I know that much. Where do I fall if I'm only dealing with royalties and expenses?
you: Do you even know/
you: ?
Lois: For royalties and expenses, I suggest QuickBooks and not Quicken.
info: Your chat transcript will be sent to at the end of your chat.

That's when I gave up...