ECHOPRAXIA by Peter Watts

  echopraxiaech·o·prax·i·a
ˌekōˈpraksēə/
noun

Psychiatry   – meaningless repetition or imitation of the movements of others as a symptom of psychiatric disorder.
So would that be like zombie-ism?  Or like members of a certain political party which shall remain nameless as well as brainless?
This is the sequel to Blindsight,  which I babbled on about here.   Echopraxia is almost a stand alone because there are enough clarifying references to Blindsight to keep you up to speed.  This volume features a well known biologist, who is mainly living in a tent in the Oregon Desert, studying the mutant effects on the fauna there, after a rather serious oops event in his earlier career.  Somewhat nearby is a monastery,  the Bicamerals, ‘monks’ who have evolved their brain power so much that they are beyond speech.  They believe that God is information data.  I think that is what they believe.   Anyway, they have managed to harness nature in the guise of a tornado.  One night, when it would seem that they are being attacked by the authorities, they pull the trigger on the tornado, and a terrible storm ensues.  Our biologist manages to get to the monastery for shelter, is hauled inside where he meets a woman who has been augmented and can communicate with the monks, and a military general, who turns out to be the father of Siri, from the first book.
But the monks haven’t been spending all their time praying and fasting.  They have been building a starship in the basement.  Yeah, I did that too, but it didn’t work out very well, probably because I know nothing about physics,  or the mechanics of flight, and am afraid of the welding machine.  So chazam, off they go into the wild blue, catching up the General, the girl and our biologist.  Hey, a free trip to the back of the back of beyond.  What’s not to like?
Howsomeverly, it turns out that on board is a lady vampire, Veronica, and a bunch of her minions.  Now you will recall that humans are prey for vampires, so everyone is pretty nervous around her.   They arrive at an energy way station called … oh fudge, I forget…. which they find totally deserted.   But they do see an anomoly, a something, which turns out to be …. well, I don’t know exactly what it was… thinking metal?  Kind of like slime mold with blueprints?  Anyhow, the darn thing is infectious, and can imitate walls, etc.  There is a lot of scary stuff going on, with people and creatures dying and stuff, and finally the biologist, the captain and the General get away and fly back home, with the vampire somehow out on the struts of the ship, having gone into hypersleep or whatever vampires do to survive.
The General has minutely examined all the data transcripts from the ship his son was on, and is convinced the kid is still alive and transmitting from somewhere, that original ship having been blown to smithereenettes.  Reading those transcripts and rereading, he slowly goes mad.
The vampire survives the journey back to earth, and ends up in the Oregon desert with the biologist, where they establish a sort of friendship, and then he…..
Honest to Pete, even better than the first in the series.   The plot is space opera, the vision amazingly creative, and the intelligence of it all makes me ashamed for reading so much Agatha Christie in my misplaced youth.
Again, this is a freebie, as in FREE, (Creative Commons) in various places throughout the interwebz, so if you say bah humbug to the whole thing because you don’t read sci fi, I urge you to at least download it and read the Notes and References section, which contains if not a truckfull, at least a minivan-full of fascinating information upon which the story is based.  Stuff like psy-ops and the consciousness glitch, a bit about how vampires could actually exist, zombies and the reality, cognitive slime mold, Cooper’s iCHELLs 35, inorganic metal cells capable of reactions you could call metabolic, adaptive delusional systems, and the bicameral condition, Julian Jaynes and his bi-cameral consciousness theory which I discussed here.   and God and the digital universe.  I have always said the internet was like God – everywhere and nowhere.
Advertisements

PINK BALLOONS AND OTHER DEADLY THINGS – Nancy Tesler

Pink BalloonsA fun read, if you consider reading about murder fun.  There has to be something wrong with me, right?

Half chick lit ‘he done me wrong’ story about the 18 year marriage that dissolved the night the hubs walked out on Christmas Eve for a younger and more glamorous model, and half murder mystery when that very same  younger and more glamorous model was found murdered in the ex’s back yard. The story also comes completely equipped with a single, decent-guy homicide detective, and an apparently  disloyal deceitful BFF.  So just like burger King, you get it ‘your way’.  Or something.

Our protagonist, Carrie, is a biofeedback counselor.  Is that really a thing?  Can you make a living with this? Who knew?   Amazing what you can learn even reading light entertainment fiction.

It’s a fine mystery, and as usual, I totally didn’t see the end coming.  Good thing I didn’t decide to be a P.I.   I would have a solve rate of zip zero nada.

Good writing, and you will be pleased to know there is apparently a series of these … And Other Deadly Things titles.  I don’t know if they all feature Carrie and the detective, but I have the feeling they do.  After all, a good man nowadays is hard to find.

 

 

GUN GAMES by Faye Kellerman

gun gamesWell, crumb.  This was a disappointment, and I have loved every one of the Decker/Lazarus novels up to now.  This one centered around the young musical genius who is living with the Deckers (see Hangman) while his mother has disappeared into India to have a baby and to escape his gangster father.

In Gun Games, our genius boy meets a 14 year old Persian Jewish girl which whom he kind of falls in love, he meets the gang from the local high class private school whom he outmaneuvers, and the plot revolves around guns.  How timely.

A young teen boy from that school commits suicide by shooting himself with what turns out to be a stolen gun.  Weeks later, another teen, a girl, commits suicide with what turns out to be a stolen gun. Another boy from the school leaves the school and enrolls at a different institute.  Bullying gone amok?  Decker gets called into the situation by the mother of the boy, who has questions about it all.  He agrees to investigate based on the fact that the guns were stolen.

Meanwhile, it seems like more than half of the book is texts between the musical genius and the girl, boring boring boring, and their love affair.  I mean, really.  Not a lot of detecting going on, but there is a mighty fine action scene where our genius saves the fair maiden from the gang with guns, and a final denouement, which includes a very satisfying immoral act of revenge.  Ya gotta love it when the baddie gets it, don’t ya.

If I want to read a YA novel about young love I’ll pick up a YA novel about young love.  But when I think I am going to read a decent detective story involving a couple of familiar characters, I want to see those characters.  The YA’s can go smoochie smoochie somewhere else.  I know.  I am old and jaded.  Hey, you kids!  Get off my lawn!

lawn

CASE HISTORIES by Kate Atkinson

case historiesI can see that this author is going to make my Authors I Really Like list.

This features not only the almost-tired burned out P.I. who used to be a cop trope, but features the principals of the cases he is suddenly involved in, as well.

We get a lot of backstory on each one, starting with the 3 year old who disappeared one night in the ’70s while sleeping out in the backyard tent with her older sister, never to be seen again, neither hide nor hair.  Then there is the obese lawyer whose adored 18-year-old daughter was stabbed to death in his office one day ten years before the book opens;  there is the 18-year-old new mother with a relentlessly squalling baby who finally loses it and cracks open her unsympathetic husband’s head with an axe.

Within a short time, individuals from each of these events contacts our P.I., each having lost something and looking for something.

We learn about what happens to the squalling baby;  who killed the daughter;  what happened to the missing three-year old, and are delighted by the odd older sisters of the missing child, who are now respectively a cloistered nun, a teacher and a hippie.  We meet the P.I.’s 8-year old daughter,  a few other characters, and are amazed at how it all pulls together.

Yeah, in the end, it all pulls together, and even looking back, we can’t figure out exactly how that happened, it was so adroitly managed.

Loved it.  LOVED it.  Sort of a mystery, sort of a detailed story of a disparate cast of people, sort of a story of a dead and dying marriage,  so I would have to call it a genre-crosser.  Loved it.  Did I already say that?

 

BLINDSIGHT by Peter Watts

blindsightDo you like your sci fi hard science space opera with an intellectual upgrade?  Yeah, me, too.  This astounding work was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Novel, a John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel,and a Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.  Yowser.

It is about a crew of enhanced humans off to a distant space place to see if they can make first contact with whatever it was that inundated the earth with ummm a kind of grid, like they were taking pictures, then disappeared.  I mean, holy patoly, what WAS that, eh?

The exploration of consciousness is the central theme element of Blindsight.  The title of the novel refers to the condition blindsight, in which vision is non-functional in the conscious brain but remains useful to non-conscious action.

I loved the characters.  Our principle character is Siri, who has had half of his brain removed and replaced with stuff, computer kind of stuff, I guess, enabling him to sense what people are thinking by their body topology –  their body movements, etc.  His job is to observe and report.  He is not to participate.

Then there is the Gang of Four.  A woman had her brain separated into four parts, each part with a different specialty.  Split personality with a hey nonny.  Can you say The Three Faces of Eve, boys and girls?  There were some other specialists, but the best was….. are you sitting down?….. a VAMPIRE.  No, really.  It seems like vampires died out way back when, but actually they are superior beings, with brains that can not only process info faster in a way we don’t understand, they have that supposedly impossible ability of holding two separate and conflicting thoughts in their minds at the same time.  He was the captain of this expedition.  The downside to vampires,  however, is that they are predators, and their prey is humans.  It is thought that they died out because they decimated their food source.  Humans could not reproduce fast enough to constantly replenish the supply.  So vampires went extinct.   This one was brought back to life specifically to deal with the extraterrestrial problem, and has to take special infusions to reduce his need to prey on his fellow crew members.  He makes everybody on the ship nervous.  Ya think?

They finally come to the source of the alien problem out in the back of beyond,  and it is a structure, huge in size, which somewhat resembles a crown of thorns.   They find some beings, creatures, with a lot of arms and legs, and capture a couple.  The ship’s biologist or whatever he is  discovers that they have no brain, and no circulatory system.  It would seem that the artifact (that would be the alien structure) is the body and these are …. well, I don’t know what they are.   Before actually sighting the artifact, the ship is contacted by the aliens.  One of the Gang of Four’s persons is a linguist, and finds a pattern in the communication which she can turn into understandable language.  Turns out the artifact speaks English.  Say, there’s a coinky-dink.  After a number of days of talking back and forth, the linguist is coming to the conclusion that it is an AI she is talking to, not having a real conversation but one made possible by the techniques of the Chinese Room puzzle.  The question throughout the book is one of the necessity of consciousness for communication, yes? or no?

Lots of action, lots of innovative ideas about space, time, creation, and just what makes us us.  It is less space opera than space rumination,  and I really really liked it.  As Wiki says, the novel explores questions of identity, consciousness, free will, artificial intelligence, neurology, game theory as well as evolution and biology. The writing….. oh the writing.  So good.

And almost the best part?  It is free under Creative Commons, as well as its sequel,  Echopraxia.

Oh, yeah.  The Chinese Room puzzle. The Chinese room is a thought experiment presented by the philosopher John Searle to challenge the claim that it is possible for a computer running a program to have a “mind” and “consciousness” in the same sense that people do, simply by virtue of running the right program.

“Suppose that I’m locked in a room and … that I know no Chinese, either written or spoken”. He further supposes that he has a set of rules in English that “enable me to correlate one set of formal symbols with another set of formal symbols”, that is, the Chinese characters. These rules allow him to respond, in written Chinese, to questions, also written in Chinese, in such a way that the posers of the questions – who do understand Chinese – are convinced that Searle can actually understand the Chinese conversation too, even though he cannot. Similarly, he argues that if there is a computer program that allows a computer to carry on an intelligent conversation in a written language, the computer executing the program would not understand the conversation either.

Come for the cool space stuff, stay for the cool intellectual exercise, and stand around in stupified awe as you watch the transhuman society at work and at play.

 

 

SHADOWS OF THE DAMNED by Kathrin Brückmann

shado9wsBird, triangle, snake, jar, ankh, eye.  Oh, darn, I forgot.  It’s ankh before jar, except after snake.

Oh, hi there.,  Just writing my blog entry on Shadows of the Damned,  the second in the In Maat’s Service series, mysteries starring two young doctors set in ancient Egypt, the Middle Period, I think.  How would I know.  All those sand dunes look alike.  You can refresh your memory about the previous book, Apprenticed to Anubus here.   In fact, go read that blog entry now, because it has a lot of information in it which will be helpful in talking about Shadows of the Damned.  I’ll wait.

Although Shadows is a stand alone, it actually would be really helpful to have read Apprenticed first, because there are  a fair amount of unexplained references back to events and activities in that book.  In this volume, Dr. Hori and his BFF Dr. Nakhtmin become involved in another situation in the institution, the weryt, where the embalming is done, all with secrets and mysteries.  As you will know from the first book, the insides of the dead bodies are removed and placed in sealed jars.  Not the brains, though.  Egyptians believed the seat of the soul and all activities was in the heart, and the brain was nothing, so they just sucked that part out and tossed it.  But the heart, being the core and seat of the soul was placed in a jar until the embalmed body was ready for it to be replaced.  I think I have this right.   Well, to the horror of the officials of the weryt, a second heart was found in a jar along with the proper heart, so the jar contained two hearts.  This means there was a body around somewhere.  So what happened?  The person cannot gather its ka and ba together to go to the Afterworld without it.  This is a huge big deal for the ancient Egyptians.   Since Hori already knows the secrets of the weryt, his services are requested to do some detecting to find out what happened, where was the body, and how that body came to be without its heart.

Meanwhile,  Nakhtmin becomes involved with his father-in-law, who is the Second Prophet of the Temple of Amun, and since the First Prophet is elderly and about to pass on to the Beautiful West, will become the head dude of the Temple.  But another of the top four has been bitten by a cobra and died, meaning they also have to appoint another prophet in his place.

And more meanwhiles, Nakhtmin’s wife is pregnant, as is the wife of the Pharaoh.  The two young doctors also have the responsibility of caring for the wives in the Pharaoh’s harem.  But it seems that nefarious doings regarding ambition and power within the Temple are afoot, and there are mysteries to be solved there, as well.

Along come the painful and horrible deaths of some of the candidates for the prophet positions, which looks very much like poisoning, but which turns out to be the effects of a powerful curse.   A secret rite of Osiris must be conducted to rid the area of the evil Shadows, and banish them forever in order to keep the effects of the curse from spreading.

So the various threads become interwoven and at the end of the book we find we have learned so much more about the life and mores of this time in this land than we ever would have bothered with in school, because it is all disguised as a great story!  We learn that medicine and supernatural forces play an equal part in the physical well-being of the citizens of the time, and part of the doctor’s bag of diagnoses must be a full knowledge of curses, cures, and demons.  There are potions, and then there are potions, if you will.

I really love these books.  The writing is good, and we can thank the translator, Edith Parzefall for the English version.   The tale has such an authentic feel, steeped in what is known about the ancient Egyptian civilization.   It is not just some modern story dressed up in historical garb.  It is an historical story.