How to make a sentient spaceship: some suggestions from the literature

Somebody recently commented on one of my videos that thanks to some of the books they’d been reading they now kind of expect every spaceship in science fiction stories to be able to hold a conversation.  And if you watch a lot of my videos you may have noticed that the trope of the sentient ship is probably one of my favourite tropes at the moment. So I thought maybe today it might be interesting to explore how one might go about making a sentient spaceship, just in case that’s something that you’re also looking to do in life.

Watch the video or scroll down to read the text version.


So obviously the first consideration is that you’ve got to invent true artificial intelligence. And the problem is that that’s apparently quite hard to do.
Cover of lightlessIn Lightless by CA Higgins we see the computer scientist Althea trying to manage and maintain the extremely advanced computer on a secret government research vessel the Ananke. Unfortunately the ship is boarded by some kind of pirate saboteurs who do *something* to the computer and things start to get glitchy and weird. While the tiny crew tries to deal with the intrigue and deception caused by the now captured pirate, Althea is worrying about what the hell is going on with her ship’s computer and how it’s connected to chaos on board. So according to Higgins take one very advanced computer, do something weird to it, and hope it thinks you’re on the right side or, well, best not think about the alternatives.

Illuminae coverUnless of course you’re Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff whose book Illuminae explores the ramifications of an AI getting free reign over a ship in distress and doing its very best to ensure that there are survivors. Aiden is the intelligence running an advanced military ship that gets caught up in a rescue mission after a distant settlement is attacked by a vicious corporation. Unfortunately Aiden is damaged in the course of this mission and, as a result of the damage manages to heal his code in a way that somehow causes him to become rather more self-aware than anyone intended. And as it turns out, trying to save people means considering what counts as acceptable loss. And computers are very good at calculating the odds but slightly less skilled at mercy. So I guess according to Kaufman and Kristoff truly artificial intelligence is going to be an accident which really doesn’t help us with our plans but that the result might not be as good for humanity as hope so maybe we should probably plan for it a bit.

Cover of Long WayAnd thus we must consider the Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers. Starting in The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and becoming the focus of the story in A Closed and Common Orbit, Chambers suggests that AI for running ships that could be sentient will develop out of software a bit like the limited AI we have now. It will be a generic programme installable on ships with certain baselines for what it’s intended to do, i.e. care for crew, navigate safely, avoid harm where possible. But that it will slowly learn and customise itself to a ship and its crew over time so if you want to have a chat with it, it will learn to do that well. And in the world that Chambers creates, AI are intended to be treated as very much being like Siri or Alexa, they are programmes, software, and no more. But Chambers shows us the potential problems, that software that is advanced enough, that can learn and develop, could count as true sentience. That ruling AI to be non-people could be problematic when your AI has feelings and develops relationships. So according to Chambers, if you want a sentient spaceship, you better start treating it nice.

Cover of Ancillary JusticeIf you’re familiar with my videos you may have noticed that there’s one obvious world of sentient spaceships that probably started me on this whole obsession that I haven’t mentioned yet and that’s the Imperial Radch series starting with Ancillary Justice. So what does Ann Leckie suggest we do?
First, develop an incredibly advanced system of AI that can inhabit multiple bodies and communicate across them and across vast tracts of space. Then it takes over a galactic empire and rules it as the leader whilst inhabiting seemingly infinite instances of the same cloned body. And then have similar intelligences installed on ships with the ship mind able to be installed on cybernetic ally modified human bodies to act as its ancillaries and troops on the surface of planets, and you have the Imperial Radch. It sounds like a great idea…if you want to be ruled over by a malevolent dictator.

So perhaps we shouldn’t go down the fully AI route, they do seem to all be having some issues in the whole feelings and ethics department. Even if they can all have nice chat. Instead, what if we flipped that around and started with a biological spaceship. Biology is all about the feelings. That could be interesting….

Cover of BintiIn the Binti trilogy (Binti, Binti: Home, Binti: The Night Masquerade), Okorafor writes of ships known as ‘Big Fish’. They are creatures of the stars, that look like enormous shrimp, who love to travel and whose bodies contain plant filled chambers to produce the gases that enable them to breathe in the depths of space. They are capable of shaping their bodies and adjusting these chambers into spaces that can useful for other races of aliens to travel in, and so they developed a symbiotic relationship with them and have become the universe’s spaceships. But far from a beast of burden being passively moulded and used by more intelligent species, we come to learn that Big Fish and her species are highly intelligent and fluent in the deep mathematical understanding of the universe that Binti is learning about. So according to Okorafor, to make a sentient spaceship, first you have to make friends.

Cover of Ninefox GambitIn Yoon Ha Lee’s superbly weird, Machineries of Empire series (Ninefox Gambit, Raven Stratagem, Revenant Gun) we see a similar biological basis to space travel. The spaceships used by the military are called Moths. In the final book of the trilogy we discover that as if the empire wasn’t horrendous enough, the moths are in fact living creatures, they’re an intelligent race that has been slaved into ship form by the surreal mathematical manipulations of reality that form the technological basis for this world. So they are a kind of biological-AI cyborg hybrid thing but in the world of Ninefox Gambit it’s hard to draw the lines between technology and biology because everything is just so damn weird. So how to make a sentient spaceship? Enslave and mutilate a race of giant intelligent space moths. I think we’ll give that method a miss.

But in terms of sentient ship manufacture methods, this has brought up an interesting new possibility: hybridising the biological and technological!
Embers of war coverOn which note, let’s chuck in a suggestion from Gareth Powell in Embers of War.  In this universe, somebody wanted a warship that had the calculating and navigational abilities of an AI along with instincts for things like tenacity, loyalty, absolute devotion to protecting crew members, along with an innate understanding of violence. All very biological feelings and instincts, so rather than try to programme an AI to understand these feelings from scratch, much easier instead to combine the intelligence of AI with DNA from dogs. Who but a dog could be so ferocious in service of its pack. And so we meet Trouble Dog, an ex-warship who has retired from service after a horrendous war and now works to rescue ships in distress. But her latest mission quickly turns into something far more dangerous and our ship and her crew find themselves at the centre of a potential new conflict that could engulf not just mankind but the entire galaxy. If Trouble Dog is going to save her people from this, she’s going to have to remember how to fight like a dog!

This method seems quite good really, way less murdery than the AIs and way less evil than enlsaving the giant moths. But what if we tried to make it better…what if the biological element was human!
Tea Master coverThat idea comes from the brain of Aliette de Bodard in her Xuya universe. This is a collection of short stories and novellas that take place in the same universe but can each be read independently and it features the concept of Mindships. Mindships appear to be a special kind of human-AI hybrid. From what I gleaned from the stories they begin as a special kind of baby, presumably genetically altered to allow this hybridity, which are gestated and born like human babies though apparently the pregnancy is particularly hard on the mother so it’s considered a great and noble thing to have done, but then when they’re born these special babies are implanted into a ship where they grow and develop. Mindships are very much people in this world, because they are people, they are part of their families and have jobs and personalities.
Two stories I would particularly recommend are Three Cups of Grief by Starlight (free on Clarkesworld) where we see siblings dealing with the death of their mother and one of those siblings happens to be a mindship. And The Tea Master and the Detective, a gender flipped retelling of Sherlock Holmes, where Watson is a mindship known as The Shadow’s Child who is persuaded by the human detective Long Chau to return to deep space in search of bodies to study. So how do you make sentient spaceship according to de Bodard? You give birth to it.

So there you go a selection of methods for creating a spaceship that you can have a chat with. Please be aware that the management take no responsibility for any new forms of intelligent life you may or may not produce, and the interstellar ethics committee will need to approve your chosen methodology before you can create and release your chatty intergalactic pals into the wild.
Also these also happen to be some of my very favourite books so I totally recommend each of them! Don’t forget you can now support this channel on Patreon, I will be back soon with another video, and in the meantime, happy reading and thanks for watching.

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We’re not in Kansas anymore | Thoughts on THE DOOMSDAY BOOK by Connie Willis

Doomsday Book by Connie WillisAuthor: Connie Willis

Publisher: Gollancz (and various others)

Publication Date: Originally July 1992.

Length: Novel (578 pages approx)

Format I read: Audiobook

Rating: 4.5/5

 


The Blurb

For Kivrin, preparing an on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in humanity’s history was as simple as receiving inoculations against the diseases of the fourteenth century and inventing an alibi for a woman traveling alone. For her instructors in the twenty-first century, it meant painstaking calculations and careful monitoring of the rendezvous location where Kivrin would be received.

But a crisis strangely linking past and future strands Kivrin in a bygone age as her fellows try desperately to rescue her. In a time of superstition and fear, Kivrin–barely of age herself–finds she has become an unlikely angel of hope during one of history’s darkest hours.

My Thoughts

A really wonderful in-depth story of time-travel and the very real difficulties of trying to survive in the past. Remember that old adage – “the past is a foreign country” – well if nothing else brings that home then this book will. The uncanny similarities and differences of life in the middle ages, the horrible reality of a world without modern medicine – they’re just for starters.

Because then there’s that extra layer of cleverness. In the 1990s Willis wrote this book in an imagined future of the 2050s and we can read with amusement how the comparatively recent years of the 1970s were already becoming misremembered (and fearsome because of it). But through the joys of time actually passing the additional pleasure of a strangely alien future also emerge. Willis’s vision of a future with video phones tied to landlines and almost impossibly small file-sizes seems charmingly naive now but only serves to emphasise the sheer impossibility of the historian’s (and futurist’s) task of understanding another era. It is only Kivrin, who ventures into the 14th century who can understand it, and only then through total, terrifying, assimilation. She does not simply learn about the past, she becomes part of it.

And, damn me, if it isn’t also entirely heart-wrenching.
P.S. If you’re prone to hypochondria I’m going to give you a heads-up: this is not the book for you. I am now totally paranoid about every sneeze and considering investing heavily in antibacterial gel.

Sheldon sprays germs

The great grey inbetween | Thoughts about On The Edge of Gone by Corrine Duyvis

 

On the Edge of Gone coverAuthor: Corrine Duyvis

Publisher: Amulet

Publication Date: 8 March 2016

Length: Novel (456 pages)

Format I read: ARC trade paperback

Rating: 4.5/5

Note: I requested and received an advanced reader copy of this for free from the publisher but all views are very much my own.


 

The blurb

January 29, 2035. That’s the day the comet is scheduled to hit—the big one.

Denise and her mother and sister, Iris, have been assigned to a temporary shelter outside their hometown of Amsterdam to wait out the blast, but Iris is nowhere to be found, and at the rate Denise’s drug-addicted mother is going, they’ll never reach the shelter in time.

A last-minute meeting leads them to something better than a temporary shelter: a generation ship, scheduled to leave Earth behind to colonize new worlds after the comet hits. But everyone on the ship has been chosen because of their usefulness. Denise is autistic and fears that she’ll never be allowed to stay. Can she obtain a spot before the ship takes flight? What about her mother and sister?

When the future of the human race is at stake, whose lives matter most?

My thoughts

Fast paced, well-written and kept me gripped to the end whilst making me ask some very pointed questions about the value of life. Opening minutes before the big comet hits, this book makes you a very different look at the apocalypse and what it means to survive.

In fact, my overwhelming sense of this book was that it asks you to think beyond the binary of so many disaster stories.

There is no tale of pre-disaster panic and preparation, but nor is it the story of survival in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. This is the vast grey inbetween.

This is not a story that ends in fire. This is not the survivor’s tale, spoken in noble but tragic isolation as they leave behind the dead earth and the humanity that was unable to escape. Those stories are easy to tell, easy to cry a poignant tear over the death of millions when you’re boldly going where no man has gone before.

Instead this story keeps us on earth and asks us to imagine that maybe the end of a civilization doesn’t necessarily mean the end of life. It asks difficult questions about the ease with which we accept that the survival of the lucky must come at the price of the complete sacrifice of all others. It asks what it means to survive if there is no place for help, for community, for a middle road. And this large scale struggle is replicated in the smaller story of Denise and her family, and the decisions she must make to stay alive, to protect her family, and to protect herself from her family.

It’s a fascinating book where the plot keeps you flying through but the ideas stick with you long after you’ve finished reading. All in all, a damn fine read.

What I read – November 2015

In this week’s video I’m talking about all the lovely things I read in November. You can watch the video below or keep scrolling to read the text version.

Can’t see the video? Watch it on YouTube: https://youtu.be/gAcr9u3dftM


Lets work from least favourite to favourite so I can work my way up to the serious levels of emotion I’m going need at the end!


 

darkforestTo begin we have The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu.

I was super excited to get to this book – it was in my priority TBR for the end of the year, I’d been told it was even more amazing than the rather excellent first book in the series The Three Body Problem – and I couldn’t read it. Seriously.

I do not know what is up with the writing style in this book but it is jarring as hell and just unpleasant to read. Maybe it was down to a change in the writing style from books 1 to 2 in the original Chinese version or maybe it’s to do with the changed translator but reading this made me sad. Somebody please tell me what’s going on with this. I swear it’s not just me.


 

House of Shattered Wings - cover The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard.

The story is set in a fantastical version of Paris where fallen angels waged a huge war destroying most of the city. The war is over but the factions remain locked in elaborately polite political power games and the dark deeds of the past are emerging to haunt the angelic houses and destroy everything the hold dear.

You can read my full review in an earlier post:

Room to Grow Into| Review of The House of Shattered Wings 


 

theawesome The Awesome by Eva Darrows is all about Maggie, a seventeen year old apprentice monster hunter in a world where all the supernatural beasties have come out of the proverbial closet.

Maggie is badass and awesome, or at least according to Maggie she is. The only problem is that Maggie is stuck being an apprentice until she can rid herself of her rather pesky virginity. So now Maggie has to negotiate the rather trickier world of social skills and dating all the while dealing with ghosts, and zombies, and monsters, oh my.

It’s hilarious, honestly I was laughing out loud within a couple of pages. Maggie is the narrator so we see the world through her eyes and it’s a gloriously uncomfortable experience that had me squirming in cringey delight at the memories of my far less awesome teenage self. It’s not perfect, there were a few moments where I felt some of the language was a bit problematic, but it was largely delightful, romping fun.


 

traitorbarucormorantThe Traitor Baru Cormorant by Set Dickinson

Well damn me. This was clever, cunning, and dark as hell.

It tells of Baru Cormorant whose homeland is invaded when she is a child. She swears to revenge herself on the empire that destroys her country’s way of life but chooses to do this by working her way into a position of power. In order to gain this trust and power Baru is faced with a life of betrayals and lies to her family, her country and to herself.

You can read my full review in an earlier post:

It hurts so good… | Review of The Traitor Baru Cormorant


 

Long Way to a Small Angry PlanetAnd finally came The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. This book is about the crew of a small spacecraft on a long journey. That’s it. And well, I’ve already done a separate review post and I’ll be putting out another review video for this one (extended review) but here’s the the short version of that:

I LOVE IT. IT IS AMAZING. IT IS THE NICEST SWEETEST BOOK ON EARTH AND ALL MUST READ IT.

You can read my short review in an earlier post:

Love Wins | Thoughts on A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet


 

 

And that’s it for November. What did you read last month?  I’m off to keep reading my December reads starting with His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman.

 

hisdarkmaterials

Keep reading, sugarplum.
x

Love Wins | Thoughts on A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

Long Way to a Small Angry PlanetTitle: A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

Author: Becky Chambers

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Publication Date: 13 August 2015

Length: Novel (404 pages)

Format I read: hardback

Rating: 5/5

 


The blurb: 

Somewhere within our crowded sky, a crew of wormhole builders hops from planet to planet, on their way to the job of a lifetime. To the galaxy at large, humanity is a minor species, and one patched-up construction vessel is a mere speck on the starchart. This is an everyday sort of ship, just trying to get from here to there.

But all voyages leave their mark, and even the most ordinary of people have stories worth telling. A young Martian woman, hoping the vastness of space will put some distance between herself and the life she‘s left behind. An alien pilot, navigating life without her own kind. A pacifist captain, awaiting the return of a loved one at war.

Set against a backdrop of curious cultures and distant worlds, this episodic tale weaves together the adventures of nine eclectic characters, each on a journey of their own.

My Thoughts

I tried to write a coherent review but all I can say is I LOVE IT WITH ALL MY HEART.

I love the universe that has been created, the elegant way it is created through little details of life and habits. I love the food and the soap and wine and small intricacies of life in space rather than just war in space.

I love the interaction of the alien species, the coming together, the falling aparts, and the (mis)understandings.

I love the characters, their complex lives outside the plot, the expansive ideas of what a person can be, and their beautiful, beautiful relationships.

And I love the love; the many ways of different people being together – as friends, as family, a colleagues and collaborators, as lovers, pairs, triads, and more. I love that love so much; that love for the universe, for the potential offered by the future, love for all kinds of love.

This book won my heart. Because, in the end, love wins.

 

rainbowheart2

Baking cake, talking books (Book Cake Tag)

In today’s video I’m baking a book cake!

The idea is to pick books that fit characteristics assigned to each ingredient. I took it a bit further and decided to bake some real cake whilst talking about the books. So if you want to see the baking you’re going to have watch the video. If you just want to read about my book picks and/or see the recipe then skip over the video and keep reading (recipe at the end)!

Can’t see the video? Watch it on YouTube: https://youtu.be/ARJ3hWK9r5M


Flour: Slow to start but that really picked up later!

A confederacy of duncesA Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole is a literary fiction novel that I found really baffling and hard to read at first but then rapidly got sucked in to the wonderous whirlpool of ridiculous horror that is Ignatius J. Reilly’s life and thoughts. It’s a tragicomic tale of wrathful, slothful, ranting behemoth of a man that is truly artful in the telling.

After a life self-indulgent idleness and never-ending study Ignatius suddenly finds himself in the awful position of need to get that most dreadful of things – a job. His (mis)adventures are filled with the beautifully-drawn oddities of New Orleans life and Ignatius is the man you will LOVE to hate; selfish, domineering, and deluded, tragic and comic and larger than life.


Margarine: a rich plot!

His Dark MaterialsHis Dark Materials by Philip Pullman is a a fantasy trilogy like no other. It’s a rich, detailed and marvellously imagined story set across parallel worlds. Epic in scale it combines spellbinding adventure and beautiful writing to create one of the most enduring stories I’ve ever read. 

It tells the tale of Lila and Will, two children in very different versions of Oxford who each find themselves caught up in a web of deception and danger as the old powers of religion and science clash across the multi-verse. It  features armoured polar bears, magical objects, arctic prisons, dying angels, witches and daemons. And to top it off it’s also an audacious and profound re-imagining of Milton’s Paradise Lost. How can you resist?

If you are thinking of reading it soon then why not join me? I’ll be taking part in a readalong of these books in December. It’s being led by author and booktuber, Jen Campbell, along with Holly from the YouTube channel Library at the Edge of the World.

JOIN US…..? 😡

never join - star wars gif

Damn you Skywalker


 

Eggs – assumed it was bad but actually enjoyable!

Goblin Emperor coverI was really reluctant to pick up The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison despite the fact that I heard nothing but glowing reviews for it. I’d be bouncing off a lot of epic fantasy at the time, I think I was a bit done with a lot of the genre tropes and somehow I just felt like this just wasn’t going to be my cup of tea.

HOW WRONG I WAS!

It’s the story of a young prince who very unexpectedly becomes emperor of the elvish kingdom despite being exiled and despised by his father and three elder brothers thanks to his half-goblin heritage. This is heartwarming, a tale of learning and finding your place and voice and people who understand you. That whilst there is turmoil and horror there is kindness and friendship and loyalty. It’s a truly lovely story, well written & well executed with characters I came to love. Enchanting, delightful and totally unexpected.


 

Sugar – a sweet story!

Making of a MarchionessThe Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett tells the story of thirty-something Emily who lives alone, humbly and happily, in a tiny apartment and on a meager income. She’s the one that everyone counts on but no one notices iuntil, in true Cinderella-like glory, she meets the a Marquis and he falls in love with her – just as she is. Plus then there’s a whole murder mystery section and our new Marchioness turns out to be a stone-cold badass! (You may think I am kidding at this point but I am so not. It’s half love story, half deadly intrigue!)

It’s the sweetest, most adorably lovely love story in the world. If you’ve ever read A Little Princess then think of that but for adults. Because it’s literally that – same author!


Icing – everything you enjoy in a book

Ancillary JusticeThere is no other book I could pick. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie is my all-time favourite book for a reason. It’s part epic space opera, part intimately written tale of grief and loss. And part adventure, part domestic, part ode to song, part everything.

Broken down to it’s simplest plot it is the story of a warship trapped in a human body and her search for revenge. Formerly the vast troop carrier, Justice of Toren, now simply Breq – a grieving ancillary who we follow as she seeks for a weapon that can destroy her master.  Along the way we learn of her past life and the haunting events that led up to destructive present.

I’m really bad a writing a synopsis of this book. It is beautiful and haunting and clever. It has dramatic and adventure, gorgeous writing, and will make you question the concept of gender to boot.


 

Sprinkles – a pick me up!

darling buds of mayThe Pop Larkin Chronicles by H.E. Bates are a series of novels which started with The Darling Buds of May. They are a gorgeous romping masterpiece about the joys of living, of love, laughter, family, sex, food, fun and friendship. It starts with the Larkin family arriving home at their idyllic farmstead to find a young man waiting in the yard. He’s the tax inspector and has a few questions for Pop. Instead of answers, Charley-boy soon finds himself one of the family enjoying endless delicious dinners, drinks, sunshine, and life with beautiful Mariette.

It is a joyous series and cannot fail to transport you away from even the greyest days and into the warm fields of an English summer evening.

 


Cherry on top – favourite book of the year

Female Man book coverThe Female Man by Joanna Russ is one of the great classics of science fiction and earlier this year it blew my tiny mind.

It tells us of four women living in parallel worlds, each with a different gender landscape. When they begin to travel to each other’s worlds each woman’s preconceptions on gender and what it means to be a woman are challenged.

Written in the 1970s you see the gender roles of the time and marvel at their strange and awful imbalance. And then it becomes achingly familiar and fills you with a rage that we’re still, STILL, dealing with this shit forty years later. The writing is unbelievably good, like freaking genius levels good. It burns like lines of fire in my heart, good. READ ITTTTTTTTTT.


 

Recipe: Vegan Cookies & Cream Cupcakes

Cakes

Ingredients – cake

    • 1 cup soymilk
    • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar ( or white vinegar)
    • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
    • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    • 1 cup all-purpose flour
    • 1 cup roughly chopped Oreos (chop and then measure)
    • 1/3 cup cocoa powder ( Dutch processed or regular)
    • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F
  2. Line muffin pan with baking cups (paper or foil).
  3. Whisk together soy milk and vinegar in a large bowl, and set aside to curdle. Add sugar, oil, and vanilla to the soy mixture and beat until frothy.
  4. In a separate bowl, stir together the remaining dry ingredients.
  5. Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture in two batches beating until smooth, with no large lumps remaining.
  6. Pour the batter into prepared baking cups, filling them to three quarters full.
  7. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centre of one of the cupcakes comes out clean.
  8. Transfer cupcakes to cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

Ingredients – decoration

  • 1/2 cup nonhydrogenated shortening
  • 1/2 cup nonhydrogenated margarine
  • 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted if clumpy
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup plain soy milk or soy creamer
  • 8 Oreos, finely chopped
  • More Oreos for decoration

Instructions

  1. Beat the shortening and margarine together until well combined and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat for about 3 more minutes.
  2. Add the vanilla and soy milk, and beat for another 5 to 7 minutes until fluffy.
  3. Finely chop about 6 Oreos and mix into the frosting.
  4. Frost the cupcakes generously, sprinkle with remaining Oreo crumbs, top with half a cookie.

What I Read – October 2015

Hello lovely humans, today I’m going to be talking about all the things I read in October which I am still failing to believe is already over. Like the hell, when did that happen? As ever you can watch the video or skip ahead to read a text version.

Can’t see the video? Watch it on YouTube: https://youtu.be/adx2Dd2yakI

In October I finished three books and two graphic novels which doesn’t sound like much but I’ve been rather ill for the last half of the month so I’m quite pleased with it. If you don’t follow me on twitter you may not already know that I’ve had labyrinthitis for about two weeks. It was entirely not fun but I seem to be all better so Awoohoo.


Goblin Emperor cover

First of my reads was The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. This is a fantasy book about a young prince who very unexpectedly becomes emperor of the elvish kingdom despite being exiled and despised by his father and three elder brothers thanks to his half-goblin heritage.

It follows him from the discovery of his new position into the first few months of his reign as he come to terms with the memory of a father who didn’t love him, a government that doesn’t believe in him, and court of nobles about as easy to understand or trust as a nest of snakes.
I’ve become so used to fantasy books that are all violence and betrayal and general awfulness. Even when there’s romance or triumph in the end the main thrust is always a protagonist at odds with everyone, misunderstood or downtrodden or alone. And I kept expecting that and it never happened. This is heartwarming, a tale of learning and finding your place and voice and people who understand you. That whilst there is turmoil and horror there is kindness and friendship and loyalty. It’s a truly lovely story, well written & well executed with characters I came to love. Enchanting, delightful and totally unexpected.


 

Lock In by ScalziThen came Lock In by John Scalzi, a total change of pace to a fast-reading detective story set in a future where a percentage of the population are locked in their bodies because of a disease but are able to operate in the world by using future neural technologies that allow them to control other human bodies, with agreement, or human shaped robots knowns as threeps.
Our protagonist is a Haden starting his first day as an FBI agent and he’s thrown into a mystery that starts with a murder where the suspect claims to have been under the control of another and then gets way more complicated and dangerous when the murder starts linking to a much wider plot of corporate intrigue and somebody hacking the neural technology to take control of people’s minds.
Like all of Scalzi’s books this was a fun read, his writing is consistently good and damn readable. It’s a simple classic detective story with ideas about internet security and privacy and personal integrity and control all woven into a great future concept. It’s not going to blow you away with its complex literary ideas but that is so not the point. It’s damn good at what it wants to be.


 

Ancillary MercyAnd then, and then, oh my goodness, then came Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie. This is third and final book in Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch series and I am both happy and sad to have read it. It’s really impossible to tell you any of the plot without totally ruining the first book but I will tell you that it was a wonderful ending to the series. As a whole they have blown me away.

Leckie has a way of creating characters and worlds that you come to know intimately and that reach far beyond the story that takes place on the pages. It was a relatively neat ending which was not necessarily what I expected but worked in that there was clearly more to come that we won’t ever see.

And that’s the magic of these books – there’s a huge universe of cultures and politics and ideas and people that we learn about and are inspired by and it’s just a taster of the many stories in that universe, it’s a beginning, even though this is the end. Goddamn it’s like Harry Potter all over again. I can’t cope.

Mourning the book

If you want to get schooled in elegant writing that can confront social and ethical issues with grace, and give you all the emotions about spaceships then read these books immediately.


 

Saga Vol. 5And the first of my two graphic novels was Saga Volume 5 by Brian K. Vaughn & Fiona Staples – the continuing epic which continues to be epic. The art is still lovely, still inspires moments of laugh out loud holy shit am I glad I’m not reading this in public like I did that one time because ohmygod that’s a big picture of a….lizard. I still really like it but I can’t deal with having my stories broken up so much. I need to know what happens.


 

 

Sex CriminalsAnd then for continued not to be read in public enjoyment there was Sex Criminal Volume 1 by Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky. This is the story of a young woman for whom time stops after she orgasms. And then one day she meets a man for whom the same thing happens and they decided to use this amazing superpower to rob banks. Because of course. It is witty and clever and so so funny. The creators have obviously just taken these ideas of what you might do in that situation and when that situation might come up and it’s just cringingly, hilariously awful and yet amazing and sweet. Definitely worth a read – if you’re over 18.


 

And that’s it, that’s all she read! Thanks for reading.

Author Spotlight | Isaac Asimov

Hello lovely humans! Today I wanted to talk a little bit about the books of one particular author – this week I’ll be focusing on Isaac Asimov. So I’ll give a bit of an outline of his life and then tell you about my favourite books by him.

If you’d rather read a text version then skip below the video and get started.

Can’t see the video? Watch it on Youtube: https://youtu.be/nlTUQYX8Pb4 


Isaac AsimovIsaac Asimov, for anyone who hasn’t heard of him, is probably one of science fiction’s best known authors. He was incredibly prolific, writing, editing or contributing to over 500 books in his 72 years. Seriously, just check out his wikipedia bibliography pages! It’s kind of scary!

But there’s no need to be scared! Lots of Asimov’s works are very accessible and readable even to those who aren’t familiar with science fiction. He was one of the first science fiction authors I read as a kid and I was hooked immediately.

He was born in 1920 in Russia to a Jewish family though he himself was a renowned humanist throughout most his life. His family immigrated to America in 1923 and as a kid he read and loved the pulp fiction magazines that were super popular at the time and began writing his own stories at a really young age. He published his first short story at 19 and basically never stopped after that point! He also studied biochemistry at Columbia and went on to become a professor at Boston University. So he was a real deal scientist. He wrote a lot of popular science books as well as fiction.


 

So now onto my favourite works of his Like I said before Asimov was one of the first science fiction writers I read as it was the Foundation series that I picked up.

Foundation by Isaac AsimovThe first book, Foundation, begins in the centre of a vast galactic empire where a genius mathematician called Hari Seldon uses incredibly complex statistics and things to predict the future of humanity. He says that the empire is going to crumble and when it does it will bring a sort intellectual dark ages as planets are cut off from learning and knowledge. He persuades the empire to establish two colonies of humans at the far flung edges of the galaxy who will work to preserve the knowledge of civilisation and reduce the period of the dark age to a little as possible.

Of course it turns out to be far more complicated and devious than that and we get to watch the Foundation planet fight to survive the turbulent political upheavals of the following decades. It’s fascinating and fun and there’s spaceships and cunning plots and clever people winning the day.


I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

The Foundation series is still beloved amongst many science fiction fans though it hasn’t got the popular cultural impact of my other favourite the Robot stories.

 

I, Robot, the most famous of these, is a collection of some of the many Robot short stories that together tell the tale of a fictional history of robotics and how robots and humans have interacted. It deals with ideas of morality and intelligence and how we interact with non-human entities. A fair few focus on how we as humans can understand what robots think or how they think and he invented the term robotics (not robot, that came earlier) and set out the Three Laws of Robotics that are still familiar to us today.


 

The End of Eternity by Isaac AsimovAnother of his books that I think is totally great is The End of Eternity. In this Asimov deals with the concept of time travel. The protagonist Harlan is time-engineer who works in a place called The Eternity. It’s separated from the rest of time and the people who work there move up and down the timeline to adjust what happens at different points to try and minimise human suffering over all history. The problem is that Harlan falls in love with a woman from a particular time period and takes her out of it. It turns out that she’s not really what she pretends to be and that the entire process of adjusting time to reduce suffering is not a beneficial or benevolent as the Eternity engineers have been led to believe.


 

Now I can’t be totally positive about Asimov – he had his flaws just like all of us. The main issue is his treatment of women in his books. In some they are lacking completely and in other they are portrayed as crappy dated stereotypes. He did get better as he got older and this treatment of female characters was fairly par for the course for a lot of sci-fi written at the time but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t point it out. It also doesn’t make his books totally bad. It is perfectly possible to love something and find it problematic at the same time.

And I do love his writing. There’s a common theme in most of Asimov’s books which is the importance of knowledge and wisdom but also of the potential perils of cleverness and information without emotion and morality. He’s held up for his hard science fiction based in his real knowledge of science but actually what I always find makes me love his work is his exploration of how science interacts with these more human qualities. Family, love, compassion, understanding, thinking beyond our own achievements toward the betterment of society and future generations. Asimov balances these two areas and brings them together to make really readable fiction.

Thanks for reading!

A queer rainbow TBR

rainbow rocketI decided very last minute to join in with the #rainbowthon readathon that’s happening on booktube this week (15th-2s1t June). The basic idea is to read 4-6 books that are the colours of the rainbow (some books can serve for two colours). I decided to put a twist on it and make my rainbow book a pride rainbow and put together a TBR of queer SFF reads. Double the rainbow for your money!

 


Red

Darker Shade of Magic coverA Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab is my choice for red. The book centres around Kell, one of the last Travellers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit. Grey London is ruled by mad King George and has no magic. Red London reveres magic and Kell is raised with the prince himself. White London is a land of intrigue and murder where magic fights its users. And once there was Black London—but no one speaks of that now….

The book features a canonically bisexual character which is rare enough to make me squee with joy when I discover such a thing.


 

Orange

Infidel book coverInfidel by Kameron Hurley is the second book in the Bel Dame series following Nyx Nissa a government assassin turned bounty hunter living in a world divided by a centuries long war. The world that Hurley has created in this series is brutal, dark, horribly believable, and wonderfully readable. Nyx is bisexual in the books and Hurley also identifies herself as ‘not the straightest arrow in the quiver’.  One of my favourite writers of the moment, her strongly spoken views on feminism, ethics, publishing, and more are always worth reading.


 

Yellow & Green 

Babel-17 cover

Babel-17 by Samuel Delany is my pick for yellow and green. Samuel Delany is one of the great masters of science fiction and is gay. Babel-17 is set in a distant future where humanity hes begun receiving strange communications from an alien race. It’s all about the power of language, (mis)communication, and understanding. One of those been-meaning-to-read-it-forever books!

 


 

Blue

Lightspeed QDSF coverLightspeed: Queers Destroy Science Fiction is a bumper-sized special edition of Lightspeed magazine that I help kickstart a few months ago. It’s been entirely written and edited by queer creators and is filled with original short fiction, flash fiction, and non-fiction essays that encompass a great swathe of the QUILTBAG spectrum. I may have sneakily already started this one and, let me tell you, it’s fantastic.


 

Purple

Heiresses of Russ coverHeiresses of Russ 2014 by Melissa Scott and Steve Berman (eds.) is an anthology of the year’s best lesbian speculative fiction. It includes eighteen stories that vary from shapeshifting sidekicks to magical fertility rites to the delayed gratification of soulmate countdowns. The thing I like the most about the descriptions is that it promises that the women in this books “will find themselves tested not because of their sexual identity but rather the identity they have composed, constructed, and spun”.


 

And there you have it – a double rainbow of pride month fabulousness. Long may it shine.

rainbow rocket

Things I Like Thursday – 11th June 2015

It’s been a long day at work so I thought I’d count my ducklings (who doesn’t love ducklings) and talk about all things that I’ve been loving recently.

duckling

Women in SFF

I love discovering and celebrating SFF writers. I mean, obviously, that’s why I’m here writing blog posts and making videos. I will eternally be in awe of those people who can weave words into worlds.  To this end I’ve been happily discovering a host of great women writers.

Twitter love

The #femmeSFF tag on twitter has been joyous this evening. Hundreds of posts dedicated to reminding us of the great women authors of SFF who are all too often ignored and pushed to the side while their male counterparts’ names are repeated ad infinitum.

I have some reservations about the appropriation of the word ‘femme’ in this context (removing it from the queer context seems inappropriate and kind of blind to the intersection of lesbian authors and readers) but I do appreciate the sentiment behind the movement. If you’re looking for a new book to read then get your eyeballs over to the tag on twitter.

SF MistressWorks

On a similar note I’ve also been browsing through the archives of the SF Mistressworks blog. Dedicated to reviewing and promoting great female authors of SF, this blog is a goldmine for discovering quite how many female authors there have always been in SFF.  Go there and let them blow your tiny mind with the pure greatness of the mistresses of SFF.

Mistressworks logo

The Martian gets a trailer

adored The Martian by Andy Weir when I first read it. This was science fiction that got my heart pumping, that made me stare up at the stars and look for Mars, it was man versus nature on the most extreme of scales.

Luckily it appears that just about everyone in the world agreed with me and they started making the movie. Adaptation is a scary business for fans. The ways in which you can fuck up my favourite things; LET ME COUNT THEM FOR YOU. Luckily this trailer looks gooooooood. I am cautiously optimistic. Let’s science the shit out of it.

 

Queers Destroy Science Fiction

Many moons ago (okay not that many) I wrote about backing the Lightspeed: QDSF Kickstarter. And on the 1st of June those darling humans delivered my copy. It is magic. The introductory essays had me in tears, happy and sad. I’m not finished reading it yet so I won’t go into any details but the fiction is fantastic. It makes me extraordinarily happy that there is both new fiction and old re-prints. Just like with the female authors that get forgotten, it’s so easy to say that SF history was largely straight and fail to mention the queer authors that were there all along, even if they were fewer in number. There have always been queer authors writing genre fiction and there always will be. Go read some of them over at Lightspeed Issue 61!

lightspeed


 

There are more squee-worth things to be discussed, of course, but these will suffice for today.

Until next time lovely humans.

x