Review: God Engines by John Scalzi

•September 7, 2013 • Leave a Comment

God Engines

The God Engines by John Scalzi was released as a standalone novella by Subterranean Press in 2009. It was nominated for both the Nebula and the Hugo. It’s been on my radar for at least that long, but I just got around to reading it.

This is a story that fires on all cylinders. The magic system is tied to religious imagery. All the elements expected in a space opera have analogs in this system. Space ships, faster than light travel, communication at a distance, etc. Religion has replaced science and we’re shown repeatedly that the standard metaphors employed by this religion’s texts are NOT metaphors, but truth. It’s all delightfully twisted and wrapped around some interesting characters.

As the story progresses, it becomes less and less clear who we should be rooting for. Everyone is telling the truth as they see it … except when they’re lying. The religious intrigue feels like religious intrigue, the magic rituals feel like magic rituals, the first contact scenario feels like a first contact scenario. Nothing is what it seems.

Scalzi deftly writes what initially seems to be a transparent commentary on the excesses of religion but settles into a solid speculative fiction yarn. Scalzi doesn’t shy away from the horror and gore. He doesn’t shy away from a crazy dark ending. Awesome. The moral if there is one would go something like religion isn’t evil, but twisted people can use religion to do some insanely evil shit.

Part of the discussion about faith hit close to home. There’s a statement made near the middle of the novel, “My faith is as third-made iron.” In the magic system of this story, iron which was ejected from a star, is known as first-made iron. Iron which has been a part of the geological processes of a planetary body is known as second-made iron. Iron smelted and worked by human hands is known as third-made iron. The magical power of first-made iron is stronger than that of second-made, is stronger than that of third-made. That quote then manages to express how I feel as the son of a minister and member of a very Christian family. I’ve struggled to express that feeling that “my faith is third-made” and somehow weaker. It’s something I think about a lot and it was kind of wild to find it expressed so vividly in the middle of such a powerful story.

Review: Legion by Brandon Sanderson

•September 6, 2013 • Leave a Comment


Brandon Sanderson just won a Hugo for his novella The Emperor’s Soul. Looking for an electronic copy of that I also found this novella, Legion. The version of the cover in the middle above is by Jon Foster, for the Subterranean Press edition. The other 2 are the eBook covers designed by Isaac Stewart. I read the red version, an epub. The blue version is what shows up on amazon for the kindle.

This is a great reading experience because of what Sanderson has done with the abnormal mind of the point of view character. We have here something similar to, but a bit more dramatic than, a functional schizophrenic. Legion is a collection of eccentric (and a bit crazy in their own right) geniuses crammed into the mind of an otherwise seemingly ordinary man. He sees them as hallucinations and lives in a large house with many rooms so that he has space to put them away when he doesn’t need them. I immediately thought back to the schizophrenic character in Blindsight by Peter Watts. Sanderson’s description of Legion’s various hallucinations is sort of how I imagined that character from Blindsight might see the world if we’d gotten her point of view.

The MacGuffin has potential. A fun device which plays with the tropes of time travel while keeping our ensemble of a protagonist firmly rooted in the present. The science vs religion debate is a heavy topic to handle in an otherwise rather light thriller. Ultimately the simplistic plot is overshadowed by the interesting characters in the narrator’s head and the unanswered questions beg for the story to be continued. I’ll be watching for a future volume.

I’ll leave you with 2 related bits (sort of from the “truth is stranger than fiction” department), a Ted talk about Schizophrenia:

and an interview with the author of Zealot:

The Historical Jesus – This…Is Interesting on KCRW.

TagShadow: The 2013 Hugo Winners

•September 2, 2013 • 1 Comment

See Locus for more details and the winners in categories that don’t track well in TagShadow.  I didn’t even attempt to follow the Hugo ceremony this year after my frustration last year, but the winners have been announced and I’ve updated Hugo Winners TagShadow accordingly:

I continue to read

•August 14, 2013 • Leave a Comment

What I’ve been doing while not posting here.

  • I’m 15 books into my 20 book goal for the year. I may just have to raise that goal up a few notches.
  • I’ve started quite a few reviews for this blog, but I seem to have lost all confidence in my ability to collect my thoughts…
  • thus I’ve been reading about literary analysis. We’ll see if that helps me gather my thoughts.
  • I started a tumblr to track the short fiction I read. See my reviews of The Emperor’s Old Bones by Gemma Files and The Best Science Fiction of the Year Three by Ken Macleod
  • I continue development on the next iteration of TagShadow, although data entry has stalled. I really need to bring some other people onto this project…

The Big Idea: Michael Marshall Smith

•May 30, 2013 • Leave a Comment


I love reading “The Big Idea” on Scalzi’s blog and this book has been intriguing me for a while. I once did a reading at an open mic that applied this technique (via machine translation) to a rather personal email. I suspect the results here will be better.

Originally posted on Whatever:

It’s not unusual for authors to play with words in their stories. It’s slightly more unusual for authors to take chances with the meaning of their stories — and to see if the meaning of the stories will change if the words are changed, in a deliberate way. With The Gist, author Michael Marshall Smith is doing both. Here he explains how and why he’s doing it.


I don’t actually remember when or how or why I had the idea for The Gist—which is odd, as it’s ended up taking about ten years of my life. As a writer, I’m normally a pretty direct kind of guy. I don’t do fancy. I distrust artifice. I may wrestle with a Big Idea in a novel once in a while but it generally winds up being subservient to character and plot, and the books themselves are as…

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The Affinity Bridge eBook is now on sale for $2.99

•May 28, 2013 • Leave a Comment


I’ve not read this series, but I have the first 2 on my shelf.

Originally posted on Tor/Forge Blog:

George Mann’s The Executioner’s Heart, the latest in the Newbury & Hobbes Investigation series, is due out on July 9. This month we are making it easy to get started with the series by releasing the first ebook, The Affinity Bridge, for only $2.99.*

About The Affinity Bridge: Welcome to the bizarre and dangerous world of Victorian London, a city teetering on the edge of revolution. Its people are ushering in a new era of technology, dazzled each day by unfamiliar inventions. Airships soar in the skies over the city, while ground trains rumble through the streets and clockwork automatons are programmed to carry out menial tasks in the offices of lawyers, policemen, and journalists.

But beneath this shiny veneer of progress lurks a sinister side.

Queen Victoria is kept alive by a primitive life-support system, while her agents, Sir Maurice Newbury and his delectable assistant…

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Science: Dealing with Data (misplaced draft 3/6/11)

•May 24, 2013 • Leave a Comment

A data archivist would be a mix of librarian, IT expert, and physicist…

This is a job that sounds awesome to me. The proposal to create such a position on particle physics research teams was made in the first of a series of articles on “dealing with data” in the February 11th issue of Science. Normally I just read through the abstracts and skim the occasional article, but I was pretty excited to spend some time with this topic. I manage a ton of data as part of my day job and I spend some of my free time working on Tag Shadow, which involves collecting and analyzing data on books and stories.

The second article discusses how techniques for visualizing and analyzing data developed for astronomy have been applied to medicine and vice versus. This got me thinking of the work my friend Justin does as well as my misplaced aspirations at becoming an astrophysicist. The third article profiles a company called Kaggle that runs competitions to improve the analysis of data, much like the Netflix prize.

I have WAY too many drafts that I never got around to posting for one reason or another. I figured I’d share.


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