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Month: August 2016

La Jolla Cove 2016

La Jolla Cove 2016

La Jolla Cove 2016

Last year was a rough one for snorkeling in Southern California. Due to El Niño, the water was warmer but much harsher. As we have for a few years, we journeyed to La Jolla to snorkel. Waves were high at the cove, but too high and rough at the Shores to see anything at all.

We worried that this year would be the same as the warm waters continued. In July we drove down to Shaw’s Cove to discover the highest waves we’d seen there and perhaps anywhere in southern California. Nobody even dipped a toe in the water that day.

We planned a trip to La Jolla with our friends for the next-to-last weekend in August, fingers crossed the conditions would be better.

When we arrived on Saturday afternoon at the Cove the water was okay, large waves coming every five minutes or so – but bearable. The water was colder than expected, and overcast skies reduced visibility under the water to almost nothing. Still, sea lion sightings were plentiful in and out of the water. Sam didn’t go in the water, so there were no gopro videos that day.

Leaving the beach we (or I should say Sam) discovered Bobboi Natural Gelato, a place we’ll likely include in all our future trips to the Cove. While walking the streets and licking gelato cones we resolved to come earlier the next day to the Cove and hope for better weather and calmer water. We’d forego Shores this year assuming the waves knocked up too much kelp and seaweed to see anything (like last year).

On Sunday we got better weather, with full sunshine most of the day, but worse waves. However, for those that made it into the water (Sam and I) the sea lion sightings were abundant and this time they were often joined by a very curious (and cute) harbor seal that liked to sniff the bare feet of (sometimes completely oblivious) swimmers.

The video below is edited down from the 3+ hours of footage from the gopro, which we just left on when we entered the water.

We packed up early as Sam had a 6am pilates lesson to teach on Monday and headed to Bobboi’s again. We stopped for dinner at the Anaheim Packing District, quickly becoming a regular stop for us after another pair of snorkelers clued us into it earlier this year after that ill-fated trip to Shaw’s Cove.

 

Review of Too Like the Lightning

Review of Too Like the Lightning

SFsignal sent me an advance review copy of Ada Palmer’s debut fiction (she’s written nonfiction before) novel Too Like the Lightning. However, SFsignal is no longer hosting new content so I’ll post my review here.

First: Fantastic cover art! But, as you’ll see, it’s a bit misleading. I have a feeling if a scene from the book with ponytailed gentlemen in high boots and laced cuffs discussing Spinoza while spanking a woman under an uplifted petticoat in front of other 17th century cosplayers graced the cover sales figures and fawning reviews would not be so vigorous.

I’ll say right at the beginning before further criticism: I’m an amateur in awe of what Ada Palmer has accomplished both in style and characterization. Reading my own words feels like eating chalk in solitary confinement after sitting at her splendid table with a new cup for every drink and new cutlery for every fantastic beast in an infinite course fete at Versaille. Despite such praise, I was torn how to rate this book. For what Ada Palmer was trying to achieve she deserves five stars. However, it’s clear within a few pages that her goal was not science fiction, but a tale of the supernatural (the religious kind, not the Potterverse kind) set in the age of enlightenment.

Every 1,000-page tome starts with a simple idea. Ada Palmer quite clearly wondered: “What if Jesus appeared not in the 1st century, but the 17th?” Palmer’s love (and deep knowledge) of that period is on display; more time is spent describing the ornate clothing or hairstyle characters wear than any actual plot point. In the last 150 pages I skipped entire paragraphs between character quotes and felt confident I hadn’t missed anything important (I get it, they’re wearing fancy clothes, I don’t care that this guy chose that shade of blue because that lines up with some obscure quote from Descartes). Despite its beauty, there is an unfortunate abundance of poetic prose that does little to advance the plot, serving instead to educate the reader (who Ms. Palmer-through her protagonist, Mycroft-rightly assumes is unaware, but wrongly assumes cares) about the thought leaders of the enlightenment.

Entire pages in multiple chapters are devoted to the teachings of Marquis de Sade, Voltaire, etc. I had to slam the book down when, late in the novel, Mycroft ends up at a free-thinkers orgy in which nearly every guest is a world leader in 17th-century cosplay. This is like a sci-fi novel set in 2016 where inordinate amounts of time are spent discussing how our shirts were influenced by medieval England and we come to later find that the president of the United States has a real stone and torch torture dungeon below the white house where the G8 summit actually happens. Alex Jones’ ravings about the Bohemian Grove sounds sensible by comparison.

Although the book brings overly loving attentiveness to elements of the past pulled forward, unfortunately, most of the author’s inventions of the future are little more than standard tropes (flying cars, tracking devices, people living on the moon, etc.) to fit contrivances of the plot. The exception is the inventive “bash/hive” living structure that seems a very plausible extrapolation of geopolitics a few hundred years from now. A nice twist is the central character’s “bad guy forced to do good” story. Maybe Suicide Squad 2 should hire Ada Palmer as a consultant as her Mycroft is a hundred times more complex and engaging than anyone in the recent film. (Spoiler alert: Mycroft has actually killed someone innocent, and not by accident, unlike anyone in Suicide Squad)

The elegant prose combined with a diary “dear reader” style is an interesting wrinkle on how stories like this are usually presented. However, simile and metaphor run rampant through the text like a wet dog in a clean house. No—like a child left at home with paint and white walls. No—like a fossil fuel company under a republican presidential administration. No—like untracked sales at gun shows after a mass shooting. Is this annoying yet, reader? I mean to show how a bit of this can help, but too much can hinder, and inside each simile the offending element is the misunderstanding of a useful thing, not the thing itself. Palmer’s similes are very descriptive and inventive, albeit at an unnecessary volume. I have a feeling a CTRL+F of the text for “like” would produce tens of thousands of results. This is especially irksome as feedback on my own first attempt at long-form science fiction received the same criticism for far less of the offending figures of speech.

I suspect the book would be an absolute dream for anyone who likes reading about the enlightenment, essentially anyone who liked the author’s earlier books (non-fiction about the period). I can’t blame Ms. Palmer for following the old dictum of write what you know, but perhaps the marketing department at TOR could rein in reapproach the marketing a bit and take a look at the author’s own website (which has a page background and font reminiscent of the 17th century).

All of the above criticism is forgivable, but the author has made a decision that will leave most readers disappointed if not downright angry. Anyone plunking down the absurd $12.99 for a kindle version (even at peak Martian with Matt Damon on the cover that book was still under $10!) should know that the central mystery described on the book jacket about the boy Bridger IS NOT ANSWERED IN THIS BOOK! In fact, nothing happens to Bridger at all. It would be like if Jesus showed up in the new testament but only turned water into wine for his parents and never left his carpentry shop, with a teaser at the end to read the NEXT new testament because Pontius Pilate just found out where Jesus lives.

Or it’s like if Quinten Tarantino directed an X-men movie, where everybody has amazing powers but they just stand around debating the merits of 70mm film.

Or it’s like if Tom Hanks never met up with Private Ryan, but spent the entire movie in flashbacks about his days as a school teacher.

Or (See what I’m doing? If you’re annoyed already you probably shouldn’t attempt to read this book.) it’s like if we never rendezvous in Rendezvous with Rama, but listen to the astronauts talk about the wonderful weather patterns they can observe from space.

Of course, the author would likely say “the question of this book is who stole the 7-10 list!” Nobody cares about the 7-10 list. It’s a MacGuffin of the future, a TMZ popularity contest for the 25th century. Even the characters in the book who claim to care are eventually (spoiler alert) exposed as being capable of manipulating the list and stating openly they don’t care who stole it as long as they can manage the repercussions.

There is another, plainer mystery about a series of accidents. Thankfully this mystery is answered in the last chapter but in the supremely clinical way of an interview with an investigator and a police chief realizing the cause/culprits. It’s a stark contrast to how all the other elements of the book are treated—no, caressed—no, kneaded—into our minds like hot oil by a middle aged-but still young looking-Thai masseuse who gives a quarter of her earnings to the gold buddha and hopes her little boy will one day be able to see again, if only to smile at her like he did as a baby and warm her heart cooled by a decade of broken promises from broken men. Oh, Andrew, what does that sad Thai lady have to do with Too Like the Lightning? Please stop this nonsense! <<Dear reader, did you not like that flowery digression into something not really pertinent to my review or that paragraph? I am only giving you a taste of what I sat through for over 400 pages! Now I’ll placate and place you back in the review you crave so:>> It’s almost as if Ms. Palmer was reminded by the editor that she forgot to wrap that flying car suicide subplot up, so she just added another chapter before saying: Surprise! If you want to know what happens to my Jesus character you have to wait to read the next book (or maybe even the next book after that if it’s a trilogy).

Which brings us back to the most problematic part of the story: Bridger. With so much talk about the banning of religion (again, something stated on the jacket, not a spoiler) it’s obvious the contrast the author is reaching for with a character who is literally referred to at one point as (paraphrasing since I only have a hard copy) “a little god.” However, is this not the dividing line between fiction and fantasy writing we’ve adopted for a century? Harry Potter’s spells define his text as fantasy, as do Gandalf’s miracles or Jesus’ for that matter. Bridger’s unique talents, seemingly endless and certainly godlike, are never explained or even questioned as a functioning reality in the world of Too Like the Lightning. This is problematic for any science fiction author that endeavors to ground any fantastic elements of the story. Arthur C. Clarke’s space elevator in Fountains of Paradise didn’t just appear out of thin air, he discussed the tensile strength of the material needed to hold the counterweight, though not knowing any material in real life that could meet those standards. At least the magical replicator on Star Trek is defined as using energy from the (also magical) dilithium crystal (not magical) matter/anti-matter reactions to break and reconnect the bonds of atoms to form new molecules. We all know Clarke’s famous quote about magic, but he wasn’t referring to real magic: things actually supernatural and miraculous, he referred to things that only seem that way to those unfamiliar with the technology. Bridger can perform real magic, no technology involved. Literal God stuff like turning toy soldiers into real men with history and memories. Things even hundreds of years in the future that would break any rational understanding of physics. Jesus’s alchemy not enough Ada Palmer added soul creation to the armamentarium of his stand-in.

But we’ll hear how this is possible next time. Maybe. After we’re force fed how Kant had therefore to remove knowledge, in order to make room for belief. I have to remove knowledge of what a sci-fi novel is supposed to be in order to believe the quotes on the dust jacket for this novel are sincere.

LaLaLander Review of The Filter Trap

LaLaLander Review of The Filter Trap

The faux news (think The Onion with a brain and no gloves) site La La Lander published a review today of my second book, The Filter Trap.

The site has a fledgling book review section that should not be confused with the rest in terms of tone. The books and reviews are sincere, the rest of the site is only sincerely entertaining, relying on (as far as I can tell) completely farcical news stories. The articles on the site are a mixture of the sardonically devious and sublimely observant. Shining both sides of such a coin is something difficult to pull off and I wish the folks pulling the strings behind the site (or managing the wordpress installation, as it were) the best of luck.

Consider this article on the singularity, containing both the technological trappings of the real thing (or at least what some people predict might be the real thing) and a simulacrum of how the average American, so overfilled with media-defined misappropriations about science, is unable to recognize reality. The clever writer subtly jabs at the most distinguished names and tropes in science fiction. After all, how different is Jenny DeFrieze’s limo driver’s epiphany than David Brin’s portrayal of the singularity as a digitized rat brain? The difference is that LaLaLander winks at us in the way Douglas Adams did with a jocular premise, but dives into the complicated reality of its subjects in a way Adams (surely smart enough to understand the material himself) never trusted his readers to comprehend. Imagine the one-star Amazon reviews on Hitchhiker’s Guide if it ever had a sentence like this:

“. . .machine functions may prove to be similar to the organic software the human brain uses to fashion its own consciousness, but it is not proof that the most complex machines were, are or ever will become as conscious or self-aware as we know it.”

Although each article on LaLaLander is attributed to a different staff writer, I have a feeling they’re all written by one author, needling a way into the complicated landscape of authorship in the internet age by putting his skill on display not by uploading word docs to Amazon, but drawing an audience from smaller pieces of absurdist humor then directing them to the real work: published novels available for purchase. That was a long sentence. This is a shorter one.

Click here to read Ryan’s review of my book, and stick around the site for humor that will make you think.

Stay tuned here, too, as I’m going to return the favor and review Stay Younger Longer.