Tentacles The SF Reviews newsletter, 13th June 2006
Relativity and why I'm now so slow producing the reviews
I'm still struggling to get the reviews out. Of course the main reason is that I'm so busy on so many things. Of course. Plus I'm lazy and the last thing I want to do once I've finished reading a book is to write about it. That sort of takes the fun out of it. But hey, it's a dirty job and someone's got to do it.
And of course, the massive SF Reviews organisation is still stuck in London. This has an inhibiting effect on my ability to write. I believe it's the weather. Today was another dismal of example of why Global Warming is so absolutely critical. "Bring it on!" I say. Another two or three degrees could really change things for the better here, or at least could really change things.
And on the subject of Science, let's check out Robotics:
Science Note 1
New Scientist magazine has an article on a robot that is intended to learn like a baby. It's a robot powered by neural networks running on external computers.
'Baby' robot learns like a human.
There is so much happening in Robotics at the moment, after so many disappointing starts over the past few years. I have to qualify that "disappointing". Of course, we've made great strides: we've sent robots to Mars; we have factories full of robots churning out cars and microelectronics and god knows what else; there are toys you can buy to play with yourself (and that's pretty phenomenal if you think about it). But these don't learn, and that's what I'm waiting for.
Science Note 2
Sony are closing their entire Robotics Division. I don't know their reasons but I've got to say I think that's a mistake. That means no more Aibo, long-suffering subject in Robotics Labs across the world
It's perhaps lucky that the European researchers mentioned above have built their own robot.
There's also some risk to the Robot Soccer World Cup also known as RoboCup since that rather relies on Aibo robots. This year's Robocup is being held next month in Germany.
2005 Nebula Awards
The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has today announced the Nebula Award winners 2005. We're interested in the Best Novel category, so first let's see the nominations for Best Novel:
- "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell", by Susanna Clarke
- "Camouflage", by Joe Haldeman
- "Polaris" by Jack McDevitt
- "Going Postal" by Terry Pratchett
- "Air" by Geoff Ryman
- "Orphans of Chaos" by John C. Wright
I've read "Polaris" by Jack McDevitt and Joe Haldeman's "Camouflage". Now at the moment I can remember nothing specific about either of those two novels. I do recall that "Polaris" was good and "Camouflage" even better but that's hardly enough to compare them to "Old Man's War" or guess which will receive the award.
But the news is out. The winner of the Best Novel award is
- "Camouflage", by Joe Haldeman
Hugo Nominations for 2006
The Word Science Fiction Society has published the final nominations. Those for best novel are
I liked "Old Man's War" by John Scalzi immensely. It was extremely well written, especially so for a first novel. My problem with it, and why I only graded it "Superb" rather than "Perfect" is that well-written, confident and thoroughly enjoyable as it is, it lacks a purpose, a moral standpoint (oh come on, I can't believe I've written that), and worse – it's continued in the forthcoming "The Ghost Brigades" and I hate that I've got to wait. But it really is a great read.
I've spent a couple of hours today reading Ken Macleod's "Learning the World". First impressions: it isn't as immediately exciting and fresh as his first novel "The Star Fraction". It's appears to be a more "conventional" tale of first contact. However, I've only just started and who knows how I'll feel when I finish.
Best Books This Month
Three books of this month's review merit special mention:
One of my all time favorites ranks top of this month's reviews. "The Ophiuchi Hotline" is just such a great book, packed with invention, when it was published and remains exciting and involving to this day. It introduced me (and many others of course) to John Varley, a brilliant writer.
Greg Bear'Slant" is a book that I had previously seriously under-rated. I've just read it once again (my third time, I think) and have realized that it's an excellent novel, so much better than I had first reckoned.
I was also very impressed by John Scalzi's first novel, "Old Man's War" but I've already mentioned that.
Worst Books This Month
Now don't get overexcited, not all books can win Nebula or Hugo Awards, or indeed the SF Reviews Best Book of the Year award. Just as there are great books there are also good books and there are bad books.
This month's reviews doesn't exclude either of the latter two categories. There are a few which are merely good and there are two which I'd prefer to forget. But for you, loyal reader, I'll remember them enough to mention them below:
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's "Crown of Empire" was targeted at young adults and I found it rather disappointing book, mainly because I expected better from her.
Paul Cook's "Halo" novel had a great, if outlandish, concept at its root but the New Age pseudo-science that permeates it quiet frankly put me off the book, and my lunch.
This Month's Reviews
OK, I have to admit something. As a kid I was of course a fan of Doctor Who. Who wasn't? But I stopped watching it years before the BBC stopped making it. Now it's come back and, yes, it is better than ever. I'm knocked out by it. Weren't the Daleks amazing in the last series? I've just seen "The Girl In The Fireplace" and what a deft mix of the hair-raising, the ridiculous and the romantic this series maintains. But no, I won't be going to any Doctor Who conventions. No way. Not yet.
Next Month's Reviews
Please don't think of this as a biannual newsletter. Rather think of it as a monthly newsletter with several missing months per year. The next month's reviews will be out the month they're out. They will, or rather may, include Joe Haldeman's Camouflage", a couple from Philip K. Dick, one from Zelazny and one classic work by the lesser known Christopher Evans. I might even squeeze in one by Ken Macleod (but will it be "Learning The World"?).
That's all for now. As always, tell me what you think about the books, the reviews and the site. Do let me know if there are books you think I should review.