Thursday, May 30, 2013

BayCon, trailers and a free e-book

BayCon was last weekend in Santa Clara (read San Jose), CA. It had some competition this year in the form of two more local conventions of a similar nature, which definitely had an impact on attendance. I've never seen the dealers room so small, either.

The panels, though long (90 mins. a piece!), were great. I moderated two on Friday and sat on two more on Sunday. I brought my fiancé, Kevin, this year. He's by far a mundane, but this was his first convention. We went easy on him. ;) We both had loads of fun with my con friends old and new alike. The dance on Saturday night was uber lame, but I guess if you're 20-something and LIKE to jump up and down and flap your arms to techno, it was passable. I couldn't tell you as I couldn't stand hangin' in for more than two songs. I gave the masquerade a miss as well, opting instead to go off the reservation for dinner with buddies Bob Brown, Irene Radford, Jeff Lemkin, Dan Pietrasik (Yes, he won my flash contest, and no, it wasn't fixed. I wasn't the judge, remember?) and newbie writer Arley, who is astoundingly prolific and charming. Then we hung out in the lobby bar with Dani Kollin and a flock of new friends.

The parties, probably because of the aforementioned low attendance were also lame. We just cruised the party floor Friday and Saturday keeping our ears open for good conversation but finding none, alas.

I did meet Shahid of Phoenix Picks in the dealers room. Now he's not just some dude. Very nice man. I enjoyed chatting with him. Which brings us to his June picks. He also gave me the first two issues of the new mag, Galaxy's Edge edited by Mike Resnick. Mike's history of science fiction magazines at the beginning of the first issue is very entertaining. I'll review the mag in the next couple of weeks here.

Phoenix Pick's free e-book for June is L. Neil Smith's The Crystal Empire.
Use coupon code 9991642, which will be good from June 2nd-June 30.

About the book:
Earth is ruled by three mighty empires: The Saracen-Jewish Empire led by
the Caliph of Rome, the Mughal-Arab Empire, ferocious in its determination
to destroy its neighbor, and the great Sino-Aztec's Crystal Empire, led by
a living God.

Little is known about the Crystal Empire, which spans most of western
America. But it is the most powerful force surviving on Earth and its
might is unchallenged.

One man, however, will change that. Sedrich Sedrichsohn, a legendary
fallen fighter, has a chance at redemption and nothing will stand in his
way to reclaim his life and his purpose, even if he must fight the Sun-God
 The last episode of the first season of The Minister of Chance is here! Let me entice you with the following trailer.

I'd love to give you a review of the new Star Trek movie, but I was at BayCon all weekend and still haven't seen it. And, besides, you probably have. Instead, here's a trailer for a Will Smith (and son, Jaden) SF flick coming out this Friday.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Judas Unchained provides non-stop geeky thrills

Judas Unchained
by Peter F. Hamilton
Del Ray 2006 (first published 2005 by Macmillan, London)

Review by Carl Cheney

In Judas Unchained, humans have colonized hundreds of planets; most of them part of the Intersolar Commonwealth. Transport and communications is instantaneous from planet to planet via wormholes; typically people travel by rail through the wormholes.

Humanity is under attack by the ruthless relentless Primes, aliens intolerant of any other life in the galaxy. Curious humans accidentally allowed the escape and expansion of the Primes by releasing the force field that had previously bottled them up in their own solar system for thousands of years. The genie escaped from this bottle shows no gratitude, instead intending genocide.

The story kicks off with a killing in a train station. It’s one of many great action sequences—this time there are dozens of security agents attempting to catch the killer in an immense train yard. Yet the assassin somehow escapes despite being surrounded.  As the investigation widens, it becomes evident, always by maddeningly indirect evidence, that a bogeyman most people don’t believe in, the Starflyer, is real.  Somehow the Starflyer has the power to twist people’s minds so that they act in the Starflyer’s interest betraying humanity; this is the Judas of the title.

The many points of view include: the leaders of the 15 dynasties (groups so rich they are based on their own private planets); working class folk; soldiers fighting the invasion of the Primes; gorgeous Melanie, a reporter determined to get the story no matter how many men she has to seduce; the terrorist group, the Guardians of Selfhood; and the investigators working long hours trying to crack the case. At every turn, politics interferes as the legendary chief investigator is discharged and attempts to find people and weapons are blocked for seemingly unrelated reasons.

One of the dynasties was founded by Nigel Sheldon and Ozzie Fernandez Isaac, inventors of the wormhole. Ozzie reminds me of a flashy version of Steve Wozniak, while Sheldon is the businessman of the pair with a flair for living large. Ozzie is a techno wizard with an adventurous streak that has him falling off the edge of a world in a seemingly infinite waterfall, and sailing his raft around in a zero-G gas cloud accompanied by an adolescent boy and an alien of a previously unknown species who speaks by modulating ultraviolet light through his eyes.

This novel is positively stuffed with wonderful ideas, including body modifications such as tattoos. Not merely decorative, the tattoos empower vital functions like sensors, weapons, and even private communications that cannot be intercepted. Most people install retinal inserts granting visual superpowers like zoom or vision outside of normal light frequencies. Working with the retinal inserts, private butlers estimate the sizes of large objects, the closing rate of approaching floating islands, and overlay vision with handy diagrams and icons of electromagnetic radiation, friends and enemies.

People maintain backup stores of their memories for implantation in freshly grown clones if they die. Those who can afford it live forever by moving into a new clone every century or so. The new bodies can be customized. Ozzie: “That was one of my lives where I’d got myself a little bit of a boost where it matters most to a guy, you know. Not that I need much of a boost, but hey.”

If I ran a large diverse conglomerate, I’d retain Peter F. Hamilton to name my new products. Everywhere there are clever names for his numerous creations including a variety of ‘bots.  Soldiers patrolling are accompanied by a ring of stealthy sneakbots (my favorite). Treats and remedies are fetched by maidbots. Mowerbots and gardenerbots landscape. The Internet of the future is known as the Unisphere.

People employ personal butlers in their brains to manage communications, look up useful data and display video feeds on their internal vision. Whatever gadget you need to manage (e.g. spacesuit, hyperglider, armored combat suit, taxi) interfaces wirelessly and seamlessly with your personal butler as you press controls on your virtual desktop with your customized virtual hand.

The Naval armor suits deserve special mention. Within 10 seconds, five armored soldiers within a smart gel ball are blasted through a rapidly moving wormhole into hostile territory. Meanwhile chaff, drones and communications jamming are besetting the enemy to cover their arrival. The smart balls match the coloring and temperature of their surroundings to cloak the soldiers within. Hiding from the enemy, the balls can also power down to virtually no activity to avoid detection. The ball and suit’s passive sensors scoop up so much information that the soldier’s virtual vision begins to resemble a stained glass window of icons overlaying their field of view. When it’s time to move on, they can haul ass by rolling up to 80 kilometers per hour over wild terrain under their own power while protecting the warrior inside from bumps and keeping her perfectly level. When ready, the soldiers emerge in armored suits ready to dispense serious firepower. I really enjoyed the armor suits in Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (1959). Then John Scalzi one-upped Heinlein in Old Man’s War (2005). In 2005, I think Hamilton bests them both in this arms race of imagination, equipping a small band behind enemy lines with an amazing package of goodies combining serious lethality with stealth.

Judas Unchained is a fantastic kick in the pants. This is my first Peter F. Hamilton book, but it won’t be my last! I was constantly barraged with delightful ideas, distinctive, well-drawn characters, wonderful action sequences, hot sex and mysteries that yield to investigation only by stubbornly revealing further mysteries.

Read Ann Wilkes' interview with Peter F. Hamilton here at SFOO.
Read her review of The Temporal Void and The Evolutionary Void at Mostly Fiction.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Sci-fi Conventions, Dark Fantasy and Quirky Books

Ahhh. San Diego.  I just reluctantly turned down the invite from Conjecture, a regional sci-fi convention in San Diego, and now here's salt in the wound.

UC San Diego has just opened their Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, "an interdisciplinary center where researchers in the arts, sciences, medicine and technology will come together to unlock the mysteries of imagination." Read all about the center and the Starship Century Symposium on the 21st and 22nd of this month to commemorate its opening.

I am, however heading to a regional sci-fi convention closer to home. Look for me at BayCon 31 in Santa Clara May 24-26. This year's theme is Triskaidekaphobicon. Fear of the Number 13 Con, basically. It's the 31st BayCon held in 2013 in a hotel with a 13th floor. More importantly, this year's con will explore the darker side of science fiction and fantasy. My latest story credit should fit right in. I sold a flash to Every Day Fiction that's terribly - or deliciously - dark. One of the editors said,
"So, where is the moral?" Well, I guess if there's a lesson, it's "Sometimes discovering the truth just makes it worse." "The Curse of Having Been a Man" will most likely appear in June or July. This is my fourth sale to EDF.

Want to read an appetizer-sized dark fiction piece now? Read "Raining Good Intentions" right here by yours truly, Ann Wilkes. You can always hit the Flash Fiction tab on this blog to read some more little nibblets.

In honor of Zombie Awareness Month, I'm reading The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters. I love Quirk Books! I reviewed another of Winters' Quirk books, Android Karenina, at Mostly Fiction. I also just requested William Shakespeare's Star Wars from Quirk.

Finally, here's a sneak peek at I, Frankenstein, which hits theaters in January.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Sharing Goodies from My Inbox

The finale of the first season of The Minister of Chance, my favorite audiphonic sci-fi series, will be available for public consumption in a week.

For now, here's a message from Clare Eden which includes cast and crew profiles and interview snippets with Julian Wadham and The Hobbit's Jed Brophy.


I have to admit I had to agree with the angle posed to me in this review request - where's the sci-fi with black female protags? Indeed! The digital series, Jayde, looks promising, though not as sci-fi for my tastes - unless they're leaving the more sci-fi bits out of the trailer. The About page speaks more to a tale of a woman with supernatural visions who uses them to help others. Can you say Medium? But they do hint at her discovering answers to her past, though it's not clear whether that will be more sci-fi or just more supernatural. But give the trailer a look and decide if it's worth throwing some money at to see more. 


Here's a sci-fi entertainment podcast from Down Under.
Hosted by Sophie Lapin and Topher Willis, Go Pop provides a unique take on the latest sci-fi and pop culture topics that the SF audience and broader sci-fi fans are talking about. The show will go live every Friday afternoon. SF has commissioned ten shows.

“Go Pop is an evolution of the content available on the SF website and social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram,” said Peter Hudson, CEO of SF.

“Go Pop will promote discussion, interaction and connection for our SF audience online as Sophie and Topher present a fresh take on science fiction and the latest television, film, gaming and comics”, said Mr Hudson.

Go Pop can be viewed at [if you're in Australia] and [if you're not].
Or right here...


Phoenix Picks is featuring a Nancy Kress book this month! I might just have to get that one myself! Nancy Kress’ AI Unbound: Two Stories of Artificial Intelligence can be had for the coupon code
9991976 through May 31st. Pop the code into Phoenix Picks' online catalog.

“Nancy Kress is the author of twenty-two novels and numerous short
stories. She is perhaps best known for the Sleepless trilogy that began
with Beggars in Spain. Her fiction has won four Nebulas, two Hugos, a
Sturgeon, and the 2003 John W. Campbell Award (for Probability Space)."

The second issue of Galaxy's Edge is out and includes Gregory Benford as a new regular columnist!


Finally, who's the bigger sell-out? Zachary and Leonard for jumping in bed with Audi or me for posting it? But it IS amusing.