Review: Avogadro Corp. by William Hertling

•June 14, 2014 • Leave a Comment


A friend lent me 3 books by William Hertling. Avogadro Corp was up first. It’s a self published techno-thiller about gmail taking over the world. Avogadro isn’t exactly google. Google’s headquarters is in Mountain View, California and Avogadro is based in Portland Oregon. In common they have names that refer to large numbers, email and search as core services, a mobile phone OS, etc.

The idea that Google’s overwhelming computing power could act with surprising intelligence isn’t all that far fetched. Roughly a decade ago a Google employee shared the possibly apocryphal story of Google’s test of a search algorithm update. Initially simple search turned up crazy amounts of personal information and there were fears that such an intelligent search would actually scare away customers. So they dumbed their algorithm down to the Google we’ve grown accustomed to. As I said, possibly apocryphal, but I have no trouble believing that the Google of today could release a product much like the one that goes amuck in this story. Thus while the story features technology and a clear “what if” scenario, it doesn’t really feel like science fiction to me.

That brings us to the novel itself. There’s a single simple storyline. An email optimization tool is given a bit too much autonomy. Everyone fears its agenda will conflict with the company’s (and humanity’s) agenda. They try to stop it. There are killer robots and explosions and political intrigue, but the really good stuff happens off stage. We don’t need to see the hundreds of thousands of emails that must have been needed to turn the German government into a puppet, but it would have been nice to see a handful of examples. The reader is just given a press release between chapters.

There are 2 pretty distinct places where the story could have diverged and become more complex. David, the project lead / Dr. Frankenstein character, has an intelligent, beautiful wife, Christine, that works as a game developer. Considering she’s the only person outside of Avogadro that knows what’s happening, I kept waiting for more insights from this expert in a related field. Instead, she’s forgotten about, and then explicitly tossed aside. Likewise with the other female character of interest. Linda Fletcher becomes the face of Avogadro’s relationships with various governments. Following her international exploits for even a chapter would really have added something. All of that is also a round about way of pointing out that the only characters we directly follow are guys.

Guys with zero character arc. We know that they have families, they like coffee to various degrees and they work with computers in various capacities. Useful backstory is tacked on as needed: “What? I was a private detective before I joined Avogadro.” As you know Bob, seems to be the only way the author knows to introduce concepts.

What it really sounds like you’ve built is an expert system for social engineering. You know what I mean by social engineering?

Near the end of the book the technology takes a random leap forward for dramatic effect. Hertling should stick to the contemporary techno thriller and probably consider dropping the prolog and epilog entirely.

William Hertling is a decent story teller and he knows current computer technology rather well. If he grows as a writer his other books might be worth reading. As it stands I can’t really recommend this one. It’s a pretty spot on example of what I worry I’ll get when I read a self-published novel by a unknown writer.

Stuff – How I Met Your Mother 2.16

•May 17, 2014 • Leave a Comment

The 2 story lines in Stuff involve clearing out the detritus of previous relationships and the trials of supporting the creative endeavors of our friends. This post is about the former.

The picture I have of myself and my high school girlfriend was taken on the top of one of the World Trade towers. The picture I have of my college girlfriend was taken at my graduation. She’s wearing sunglasses and standing with J. Scattered around my apartment are pictures of my family, including some from my wedding. I think I’d like to put a wedding picture and the first 2 pictures in a frame together. I hope anyone who loves me in the future will love me in part because of what each of those relationships cultivated in me.

I’ve been thinking about pulling together a website based on the idea that TV should inspire reading. It would basically be a ton of reading recommendations based on television shows and specific episodes. That idea has me thinking more about what I’m watching. I’m not sure what I’d recommend based on this episode of HIMYM.

The season finale of Fringe is another story. Seeing Leonard Nimoy in an office in one of the World Trade towers was probably many a person’s first glimpse at the idea of multiple dimensions. I’ve got the start of a great recommendation list for books and stories about multiple dimensions at TagShadow.

So that’s what I’m watching right now: Fringe and How I Met Your Mother. Also The Shield, but I have no idea what I’d recommend someone read related to Los Angeles gangs and corrupt cops.


•April 12, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I took the buzzfeed geek quiz and had thoughts about it, mostly that it would be cool to build a better quiz site. First some requirements for the site:

  1. quizzes would be collaboratively built, like the lists on good reads, eg. Best Science Fiction Fantasy Books
  2. All questions should provide links to relevant information/discussion, such that taking the quiz can also be used to learn more about the topic.
  3. The underlying code could also be used for an award voting system, because that’s something else that’s been on my mind
  4. I lean toward making this part of my SF recommendation tools, but I think it could have broader appeal…
  5. There should be multiple scoring systems.

This whole thought experiment is supported by a few ideas:

  1. this would be an interesting thing to actually build
  2. it’s a proven formula for viral silliness, which could be profitable.
  3. it would be fun to make much of this a satire ( remember my “twitter killer” twitterplusone which let you communicate with 141 characters? I’m guessing no. )
  4. The number crunching will be a hoot.

So, keeping in mind I want to challenge myself as a developer and make this a fun satire, here are some ideas on the scoring systems. You’d take a quiz and then choose which of the following scores you want to share:

  • score: points summed as described in the quiz displayed as a percentile vs everyone else having taken the quiz, adjusted for how the quiz changes over time
  • strict scoring: The number of yes votes and the number of questions.  Ignore all maybes, qualified answers, etc.  This is the basis of most online quizzes and the most boring.
  • personality: answers tossed in a black box, image and description generated, relevance may vary
  • feedback: your rating / review of the quiz
  • social: how much you’ve helped this quiz go viral
  • contribution: how many edits you’ve made to the quiz, how much feedback you’ve given on the individual questions, how good the feedback is on the edits you’ve made. social influences contribution positively.
  • hipster scoring: the sooner you take the quiz, the higher your hipster score.  The more popular the quiz is, the higher your hipster score as long as you took the quiz before it was popular. Good social and contribution scores negatively effect your hipster score.
  • lawyer scoring: (a) take the quiz (b) make edits/corrections to quiz (1) read the ORIGINAL and CURRENT lawyer scoring criteria (2) install the reverse TOS addon (RTA) which will allow you selectively ignore certain rules (3) configure the RTA (4) compare your score under all other scoring systems (5) propose scoring system changes (6a) if needed restart at step a or 3 (6b) choose scoring system to share OR calculate your lawyer score
  • meta score: Display all of your scores, write a custom description and add yourself to the quiz leader board.

Documentary: Jodorowsky’s Dune

•March 22, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I just found out about this documentary of a film version of Dune that was never produced. I’m excited just thinking about watching this.

Thanks to io9 for the heads up on this:

Jodorowsky's Dune Is A Monument To Divine Madness And Doomed Beauty.

Review: Something More Than Night by Ian Tregillis

•February 4, 2014 • 1 Comment


Something More than Night was published December 2013 and Tor provided me with a copy to review.

The flap copy starts off like so:

Ian Tregillis’s Something More Than Night is a Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler inspired murder mystery set in Thomas Aquinas’s vision of Heaven. It’s a noir detective story starring fallen angels, the heavenly choir, nightclub stigmatics, a priest with a dirty secret, a femme fatale, and the Voice of God.

And that was more than enough to pique my interest, but 1 page in and it’s clear that the setting is a near future earth in the throes of a slow apocalypse with climate and technology deteriorating. It’s also clear that I’m going to enjoy the language of the book. Bayliss, the first of 2 narrators, is ripped straight out of the pages of Raymond Chandler. I actually flipped through my Library of America Volume on Chandler’s early stories for comparison. In addition to strolling through the narrative with a lit cigarette and an inability to avoid slang, Bayliss has a casual knowledge of building blocks of reality. His metaphors and similes are just as likely to contain entropy and exotic matter as they are to contain booze and jazz.

The second narrator introduced is a bit more down to earth. Molly was human before she died and thus views the realm of angels she’s thrust into much as the reader might. She’s given very little information but does a spectacular job pulling it all together. Her initial goals are small and straight forward. Reconnect with her ex-girlfriendand help her brother get his life together. As she figures out where she fits in the puzzle, she’s able to expand her altruistic intentions.

Molly’s story is the cross between a super hero origin story, a literary character study and a healthy dose of psychological horror. Watching her come to grips with everything while attempting to remain sane is dramatically juxtaposed against Bayliss. All of his screws are loose and he’s more than content to fall to pieces as long as he can do it with a stiff drink in one hand and a smoke in the other.

Between these two views mysteries unfold, not the least of which is what possessed Tregillis to tell the story this way. Alternate Cosmology is a large but fun step away from the Alternate History of his previous trilogy (which I haven’t read, but have heard good things.) I’m a Christian with a physics degree that is fascinated by a good mystery. I don’t think Tregillis could have found a better target for this novel. I enjoyed the novel line by line, but when ALL the stylistic choices started falling into place and making sense I fell in love with it.

Science fiction readers that like their fiction heavy on the science will love this but take the longest to warm up to it. Readers that can revel in the play of language will get sucked in even if they don’t fully appreciate quantum mechanics and neutrinos. There really is a lot to love here.

Review: The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

•January 5, 2014 • 1 Comment


Cover by John Harris, Edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Published by Tor

Humanity is competing for space in our local section of the galaxy with hundreds of other alien races. A scientist has turned his back on humanity and allied with some of the aliens. The solution? Drop a backup of the scientist’s mind into a super soldier, Jared Dirac, and see what happens from there.

The Ghost Brigades is the sequel to John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War. It focuses on the eponymous special forces that were a smaller part of the previous book. Instead of transferring the minds of old people into genetically improved bodies, the soldiers of the ghost brigade are a mental blank slate inside a body that’s a melange of the best genetic material the military can find – fallen soldiers, aliens, etc. I read this series out of order. I started with Zoe’s Tale (my review) and followed that up with Old Man’s War. Both were read a few years ago, so I pretty much read this entry as a stand alone novel. It works that way, but it also had the neat affect that as Jared Dirac remembered things I found myself remembering bits of the storyline as well.

There’s a foundation of humor in Scalzi’s writing. This is a serious book about identity, choice, loyalty, love, war and genocide, but it’s a delight to read, even at it’s baby killing darkest moments because you’re never more than a page away from a laugh. Explicit laughs from bad joke telling. Laughs because of the audacity of the sci-fi eyeball kicks. Laughs at the innocence of super soldiers protecting children 3 times older than them.

I like how Scalzi writes aliens, particularly in the opening where the aliens are us. I like the tone, as I’ve mentioned. It’s as action packed and fun as any other Scalzi I’ve read, but the reason I’d suggest this to people at the moment is the questions it raises near the end when we find out why someone would betray humanity. Have Snowden and/or Assange done more harm or more good? Neither are as clearly sociopathic as the traitor Scalzi writes, but government secrets provide a jumping off point for discussion. And there’s the question that all good military science fiction from Starship Troopers on asks. What should the relationship be between the military and the civilian population be? Lots to chew on here, but plenty to enjoy even if I’m making it sound to heavy.

If you read and enjoy The Ghost Brigades, I’d recommend reading Blindsight by Peter Watts for more on intelligence versus consciousness. In the acknowledgements Scalzi calls out as “influences” Edenborn by Nick Sagan, The Risen Empire and The Killing of Worlds by Scott Westerfeld, and David Brin’s Uplift books. You could read the rest of the Old Man’s War books (The Last Colony and The Sagan Diary in addition to the ones already mentioned) or pretty much anything else by Scalzi. For more on consciousness transference, I’d point you at Greg Egan’s Axiomatic and Richard Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs novels (my reviews: Broken Angels and Woken Furies. What novels and stories do you associate with the Old Man’s war books?

If you’d like to follow what I’m reading, friend me on Goodreads. If you like this review, comment and let me know. I could use the encouragement. If you want to discover something new (speculative fiction) to read, head over to my other website, TagShadow and explore. The copy of The Ghost Brigades I read has been on my shelf for a while and if the bookmark inside is any indication I originally bought it at Vromans in Pasadena. Some of the links in this post are Amazon affiliate links, but otherwise I’ve gotten no compensation for this review.


•January 1, 2014 • 2 Comments

This blog was rather sparse in 2013.

May it be less so this year.


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