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The Big 20

G W Bush inauguration< >Original SF Reviews logo snapshot

Two world-changing events on the same day in 2001. George W. Bush was inaugurated as 43rd President of the United States. And, yes, SF Reviews went live. SF Reviews is twenty years old today. A least, as far I can recall, I went live with the site on the 21st January 2001.

I haven't published as many reviews as I'd planned or would have liked, but then it was hard to get around to writing a review for the book I'd just finished when there was another exciting book just waiting to be read. Excuses, excuses. But I'm pleased with the site and amazed it's still here after twenty years. Some of you have been with me for most of that time and I hope most of you have enjoyed it or found it useful.

Given the covid-19 restrictions, there'll be no public SF Reviews Birthday celebrations tonight. For the 21st Birthday, there'll be free drinks at Geronimo's Shot Bar in Roppongi - if it's still open - so roll on until next year, assuming the covid-19 epidemic is over and the covid-20 version has not yet begun.

Thanks again to Bored Panda for their brilliant humour.

And welcome to Joe Biden the 45th President of the United States. I hope he'll get some time to browse SF Reviews during the boring bits of the inauguration

I, for one, like Roman numerals.

Space

Rock on Elon! I'm so full of admiration for his forward-thinking enterprises. Check out SpaceX's upgraded Dragon spacecraft completed its first cargo resupply mission to and from the International Space Station.

And as someone who's impressed by big things, Elon's Falcon Heavy just leaves me awestruck.

Falcon Heavy spacecraft.

I broke my finger last week. On the other hand, I'm OK.

The Expanse

The Expanse - Rocinante crew

I'm a double-plus idiot. Three years ago in Singapore, I watched the first two seasons of "The Expanse" on the wonderful Netflix and I thought they were boring. Yes, an idiot. I had no idea they were derived from the magnificent Expanse series by James A. Corey.

What a delight to find those novels. I binge-read them from "Leviathan Wakes" straight through to "Tiamat's Wrath". Absolutely brilliant! I'm also, now, very pleased that I'm able to watch the TV series 5 on my accidental Amazon Prime subscription.

Patient: "Doctor, I can't feel my legs"
Doctor: "Yes, we had to amputate your arms"

Delivery systems

Bicycle courier

It's astonishing that it has become passe that you be anywhere with phone reception or WiFi and order something online to be delivered just about anywhere, in many cases with next day delivery.

UK Post Office 'mailrail'

I think Amazon may soon start building underground railway in major cities to transport deliveries, just like the UK PostOffice had from 1927 to 2003. If I recollect correctly, some postal mail took that long.

Perhaps a mini, underground Hyperloop might do the job. Over to you Jeff.

I tried to catch fog yesterday. Mist


Brexit

Brexit cartoon Thanks to the Guardian Newspaper for this excellent cartoon

I would carp on about Brexit (the UK's departure from the EU) even though I can't identify an SF angle. But it's happened now. And everything is broken; in the global cityscape, the UK will become a rundown warehouse near the old docks. Eventually though that will be overgrown by vigorous Nature and the UK will again become a beautiful country of forests, streams and meadows populated only by half-a-dozen disgruntled Brexiteers eating turnips.

Just say "No!" to drugs. Well, if I'm talking to my drugs, I probably already said yes.

First Room Temperature Superconductor

Nature magazine reported back in October First room-temperature superconductor excites - and baffles - scientists. This is truly amazing that a semiconductor has been made that doesn't require expensive supercoiling. It does however require extremely high pressure: 267 gigapascals which is around the pressure at the centre of the Earth. It is s expected that with some modification of the various elements it should be possible to reduce that pressure. Another problem is that they aren't quite sure what's going on because they can't inspect the material under such extremely high pressure.

Doctor: "Bad news, you have terminal cancer and Alzheimer's disease"
Patient: "That's not so bad, I could have had cancer"

Covid-19

I was finishing off this newsletter when I realized I'd omitted any mention of covid-19. You may have heard of it. In the end I made several revisions.

Here's a image of covid-19 and a image of WWII sea mines

Covid-19< >WWII sea mines

Clearly conclusive proof that sea mines were not some accidental artefact of so-called evolution but were deliberately manufactured to kill people.

What a truly terrible year it's been for so many people around the world. So many dead from this virus; so many sick for months after infection; so many millions out of work and out of money as so many business collapse or suspend trading.

However, we can breathe a little easier at this time. There are some rays of hope. Medical treatments are much improved. Vaccines are now being delivered (and what an incredible achievement that has been). We may be better prepared for future medical disasters.

It's sad to see how badly some governments have handled the crisis. And intriguing but scary to observe people's selective inattention. I don't seem to read the same news that some of my friends read because they often have such wildly different views not just on interpretations but also on facts. Logically one should assume that there must be misinformation on both sides and that's scary because how do I know I'm right? Well, I'll stick to the science and cross my fingers.

A physicist sees a young man about to jump off of the Empire State building. He yells "Don't do it. You have so much potential!"

Best of the reviews

Well of course James S. A. Corey's Expanse series is just great, just chock full of great characters in exciting situations. Look at all these lovely books:

But let's not forget Sarah Pinsker's first and prophetic novel and also oldie-but-goldie Frank Herbert's excellent "Whipping Star" (which I much prefer to "Dune" or any of the others in the dune series).

Both are excellent.

I threw a boomerang a few years ago. I now live in constant fear.

Big Universe and Getting Bigger Faster

New Scientist has an interesting report The universe is expanding too fast, and that could rewrite cosmology. It's all exciting science but what struck me in conclusion is that with everything expanding away from everything else, we're going to end up in a very lonely universe.

stars

In fact I assume at some point, if not already, expansion will be so rapid that stars are moving faster than we can travel to them (with whatever sort of robot or generation spacecraft we may develop in the future).

In the end we'll be alone.

Well we're used to that. We've lived through covid-19 lockdowns.

On the other hand, you have different fingers

Worst of the reviews

Two mediocre novels were:

I'd had enough of the "Alliance" protagonist Ean Lampton's appalling inadequacies in "Linesman".

Harrison's throw-away novel "Rebel In Time" doesn't give any indication of how powerfully well he can write or, when he chooses, how humorously.

Someone stole my mood ring. I don't know how I feel about that.

Amazing Special Offer

Read the "Homeworld" review and take advantage of the opportunity to win an unusual gift. This could be your chance to hit it big.

You're not completely useless. You can always serve as a bad example.

The Reviews

Software

Python logo SQLite3 logo

The new python3 + sqlite3 framework seems to be working fine. I was nervous about using sqlite3 for the full-text searching but it's turned out very well. Its single-writer restriction doesn't come into play since I use it only in site generation (single-writer) and site search (read-only).

I'm a fan of SF paperbacks and their covers and I love coding. I've been experimenting with using AI to automatically identify faces and other features on the covers. Unfortunately with dismal results so far. Of course it's impressive that it works at all. I get a success rate of around 50% and with a vast number of false positives and false negatives. Still I'll persevere. I don't have the time or inclination to do this manually so it'd be wonderful if I could get reliable automatic extraction of text and features from the covers. I could do mash-ups. I could animate! One day perhaps. That's what the future is for, after all. It's to give you time to do all the stuff you couldn't fit in today.

Someone stole my Microsoft Office and they're going to pay. You have my Word.

Next Month's Reviews

That's all for now. I've no idea what reviews I'll manage to publish by the time of the next newsletter. I've had the privilege of reading so many great authors over the past two years (since I returned to Japan). Here we go:



Alex White, Amal L. Mohtar & Max Gladstone, Ann Leckie, Adrian Tchaikovsky,
Alastair Reynolds, Arkady Martine, Becky Chambers, Blake Crouch, Catherynne M. Valente,
Charlie Jane Anders, Cixin Liu, Clifford D. Simak, Elizabeth Bear, Elizabeth Moon,
Emma Neuman, Felix Gilman, Frank Herbert, Fred Saberhagan, Gareth l. Powell,
George R. Stewar, Harry Harrison, Ian McDonald, James S A. Corey, Joe Haldeman,
Joe Hill , John Brunner, John Varley, Justin Cronin, Kameron Hurley, Kim Grimwood,
Leigh Brackett, Marina J. Lostetter, Martha Wells, Mary Robinettte Kowal,
Michael Moorcock, Mir lafferty, Neal Stephenson, Nicola Griffith, N. K. Jemison,
Patrick S. Tomlinson, Octavia E. Butler, Peter Watts, Robert A. Heinlein,
Roger Zelazny, Sarah Pinsker, Scott Westerfield, S. K. Dunstall, Tom Swterlitsch,
Ursula Le Guin, Vernor Vinge, William Gibson, and Yoon Ha Lee

I'm sort of surprised that I've managed to read so much and feeling a little guilty that I didn't spend more time writing reviews. Most of all, though, I'm overwhelmed by what a wonderful world we live in that has such an incredible treasury of fiction and factual writing available to us, and especially, of course, Science Fiction.

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 read and review.

How do you think the unthinkable? With an itheberg.

Take care

Max

(max@sfreviews.com)

 


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