Religious Orders

Planetfall Review

Posted: Sunday November 29 2015 @ 7:17pm

Religious Order: Books

Planetfall - Emma Newman

I've been known to complain about books when the reveals don't come as a surprise, most recently with Lightless, but I also complained about Parasite having a truly great reveal that it made way too obvious halfway through the book, long before it actually confirmed it.

Planetfall does it right. Bad things are revealed, but slowly, deliciously so. Okay, so I maybe figured one out early. Otherwise, each one was a delight.

Combine this with a protagonist I both liked and really found confounding, in a good way. She's a complicated character, but one I could still identify with, even when disagreeing with her courses of action.

The ending might not be quite enough for some folks, but it suited me just fine.

Overall, it was a good combination of a plot-driven storyline and a meaty character arc.

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The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet Review

Posted: Saturday November 21 2015 @ 7:39pm

Religious Order: Books

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

I haven't truly loved a book this much in a long, long time. I haven't been as sad to have a book end, divorcing me from the characters' lives, since I last read the Lord of the Rings.

This isn't plot-heavy book. There's a simple plot holding things together, but it's not the important thing in the book. The important part are the characters and their various arcs. The characters themselves cover a wide variety of species, races, genders, and biologies (or lack thereof). Some get bigger arcs than others, but everyone gets something. Everyone changes over the course of the book. It's glorious.

It's not a perfect book. Some arcs are a bit too tidy. It's almost as if each chapter was an episode in a TV series. It's sort of like, say, the Mary Tyler Moore show. Most episodes revolved around Mary, but there would be episodes for other characters, too. Even Murray would get Murray-centric episodes, although they usually sucked.

This book reads a lot like that. It's very episodic. I didn't mind. It fit the nature of the book, but does serve to point out the minimal nature of the overlying plot.

The book ends on an open note, much like a TV season might. There's some resolution, but the door is clearly open for future volumes. I eagerly await them. (No TV-style cliffhanger at the end of the book, though. It's a standalone book.)

I made my resolution to read fiction only by writers other than white males based on this blog post. Coincidentally, she read the same book at the same time. She loved it as much as I did. My favorite part of her review is where she details just how much this is a gorgeously queer book.

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Kickstarter Update

Posted: Wednesday November 11 2015 @ 8:09am

Religious Order: Toys

So, I was reading about yet another failed crowd-sourced project. It was some sort of dragonflying contraption. I mentioned on Facebook that I had really only had one project I backed fail, out of forty. That's a pretty good success rate.And then, literally 5 minutes later, I received a message from the failed project that it was still going on! Of course, it was estimated to be delivered in 2012, so I'm not overly excited.

Anyway, if you're curious about what sorts of things I've backed, here they all are!

ProjectEstimated DeliveryComments
The National Park Poster Project - Centennial CollectionDec 2015WPA-style posters for National Parks! His goal is to eventually produce posters for each and every park. This is the second collection. Each time, we pick up posters for the parks we've actually visited.
Our Super AdventureOct 2015Our Super Adventure is an adorable diary web comic about a cute couple with four cats. As part of a couple with four cats myself, about a third of these strips have happened here as well. The project produced a very nice hardcover book of strips.
Tiko - The Unibody 3D PrinterFeb 2016The gist here was to produce a delta-style extrusion 3D printer at low cost by incasing it in an extruded tubular body. I don't usually back projects like this. Even a low cost 3D printer is up near $200. Plus, crowd-sourced 3D printers fail left and right. These folks seemed to have their act together, though. Also, they did something I really liked. Instead of accepting a butt-load of backers to all get their stuff in the same timeframe, they staggered blocks of backers. The very first backers were scheduled for delivery in November, the next group in December, and so on. That sort of forethought impressed me. Of course, they just announced that they wouldn't be able to start shipping until January.
STRAFEJun 2016Remember old first person shooters where the main goal was to race around and shoot stuff? These folks do and they're creating a new game designed to bring back that style of play.
Exploding KittensJul 2015Card game by the Oatmeal guy. They raised like $10 million or so. Crazy! Anyway, the game is actually fun to play, with more depth than the simple rules would suggest.
Notes on a Case of Melancholia, Or: A Little DeathJul 2015The Perry Bible Fellowship guy is making a book in the style of Gorey. The whole thing is manually etched. It's running behind, but looks so sweet I don't think anybody minds.
The National Park Poster ProjectDec 2014The first collection of WPA style posters of National Parks.
Comic Chameleon: The ultimate webcomics app, Android versionMay 2015Comic viewing app for your phone/tablet that doesn't rip off the strip creators! That said, there's a lag between a new comic showing up on a site and it showing up in the app. I often find myself just going to web sites for strips that update every morning.
The Non-Adventures of Wonderella: A Hero For All SeasonsJan 2015Book version of The Non-Adventures of Wonderella web comic.
Uncanny Magazine Year OneDec 2014Short story collection!
Lemon Jail: 'Mats Tour Diary 1983-1986Dec 2015So, this guy toured with the Replacements and wants to write a book about it. The bad thing here is that he hit his goal, but there have been exactly zero updates. Estimated shipping date is next month. Maybe he's been hard at work? Maybe he ran off with about eight grand?
HEROES! A Diverse Superhero AnthologyDec 2014Short story collection!
Oh Joy, Sex Toy, The BookNov 2014The OJST web site in book form! There's also a second volume, which I didn't back, for no particular reason.
IAmElemental Action Figures for GirlsDec 2014Female action figures without gigantic boobs? Why, that's lunacy! Well produced figures. Decent articulation. We need more toys like these!
Smut Peddler 2014: LADYPORN CONQUERS EARTHAug 2014Woman-produced comic erotica!
The Intergalactic Travel Bureau TourJul 2014A set of postcards showing various locations in the solar system as travel destinations. There was some sort of education aspect to the project, but I just wanted the sweet postcards.
WOMEN DESTROY SCIENCE FICTION!Jun 2014Short story collection!
MODARRI CARS: Feel the RoadMay 2014You can find these in Barnes & Noble stores now. They're modular model cars. You can mix and match pieces to get different looks. They're loads of fun, and I often find myself fiddling with them.
757Electronica Compilation Album Volume 2Feb 2014Locally produced electronica.
Athena's Daughters: Women in Science Fiction and FantasyMay 2014Short story collection!
Kano: A computer anyone can makeJul 2014Child-oriented Raspberry Pi kit. It's very nice. Easy to put together with an OS designed to get kids into coding. I haven't used it for much myself, but it's always good to have a Raspberry Pi around the house just in case.
The Electric Loog GuitarMay 2014An electric version of the 3-string acoustic guitar described further down. Frankly, build quality was a bit shoddy. The neck wobbles from side to side. One of these days, I'll stick some sort of shim next to it to stabilize it.
Pressy - the Almighty Android Button!Mar 2014This is a wee button that sits in your phone's headphone jack with software that triggers actions when you press it. All I wanted was for it to fire up the camera when the phone was sleeping. Alas, it couldn't do that. I always hated the delay when trying to take a photo with a phone. Hit the power button. Swipe to unlock. Start the camera app. Take a photo. Maybe the software can do that now, but my latest phone can immediately fire up the camera with a quick double flick of the wrist. So it's pretty useless to me.
Permanence: The New Album By DeathmoleJan 2014The guy who writes and draws Questionable Content also records instrumental metal albums. He wanted to record one in a read studio. It's not really my kind of music, but I love the comic. If he wants to record in a real studio, then Imma gonna help him record in a real studio!
OMNIVORE SALT - A family recipe that makes food taste betterDec 2013Seasoned salt. Tasty, but I don't use much salt when I cook, so I still have most of it sitting in the pantry.
Devil's Panties Devil Girl Plushie!Mar 2014Plushie version of a character in a web comic. Cute, but now I'm kinda wondering why I thought I needed one.
NapAnywhereSep 2013A funky alternative to a neck pillow for long flights. The final product was quite nice, but I haven't really had a chance to try it out much.
ModiBot Mo: DIY Action Figures with 3d Printed accessoriesOct 2013Are you a fan of the old Stikfas and Xevoz toys? Then ModiBot will fill the bill for you! I love these things.
LibraryBox 2.0Dec 2013Takes a micro-sized wifi hotspot and turns it into a book repository. Take it to the library and provide eBooks for everyone!
Next Generation LiveCode (Open Source)May 2013This is a cross-platform development tool on which I once spent entirely too much money. (It was for a project. I eventually used Adobe AIR and JavaScript instead.) Anyway, they decided to go open source and needed some funding to do so. I went with it just in case I wanted to use it at some point in the future. Interestingly, the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative project, just a little below this, is using it to write the text adventure.
Cristoforo: Victorian Cthulhu fonts revived (again)Feb 2013A sweet font from a Lovecraft-themed RPG. He's been chucking out continually refined versions for a couple years now. Frankly, the early versions were fine, but it's nice to keep getting incrementally improved ones, too.
The Historical Williamsburg Living NarrativeAug 2012Want an Infocom-style text adventure set in colonial-era Williamsburg? This is one of those projects so loony I backed it simply for the chutzpah shown. I thought this project was dead, but I just received an update a couple days ago!
Pebble: E-Paper Watch for iPhone and AndroidSep 2012Yes, I have an original Pebble watch. Mine is in the bonus orange color. I thought it would be a deep orange. Instead, it's more like safety orange. I rarely wear it. It's cool, but I just don't need to be that connected.
C 299,792 km/sApr 2012Short science fiction film with all practical effects. The final result was quite watchable.
The Dollyrots :: New Full Length Album is GO!Jan 2012The Dollyrots dumped their label and crowd-sourced a very good album.
Brick Bending 1.0 This guy wanted to make videos showing how to make curved objects by putting Legos under tension. They're neat techniques, but I suspect this was really just an excuse to amass Legos. (Note: I realize the official plural of Lego is Lego. I just don't care.)
SMBC Theater Goes TO SPACE! The Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal folks wanted to make a pilot for a proposed TV show. This was the result. Amusing, but I found it less funny than most of their fans.
HexBright, an Open Source Light The best flashlight I have ever owned. Arduino-compatible. Yes, you can program the flashlight. I made minor changes to the stock software.
The Loog Guitar An acoustic guitar with only three strings for kids. And for me, apparently. Works fine, but I don't really use it.
The Citizen Science Quarterly Strange little science magazine, most of which was over my head.
COLOR ME OBSESSED, the potentially true story of The Replacements - phase 5 (mixing) This was my very first backed project, a documentary about the Replacements that featured no footage of the band at all. The resulting movie is very, very good.

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Lightless Review

Posted: Monday November 09 2015 @ 7:03pm

Religious Order: Books

Lightless - C.A. Higgins

Hey! It's another debut novel! It's been receiving high praise! Did I like it? No!

Really, I didn't like this at all. It's basically 1984 crossed with Johnny 5. That sounds kinda cool, but it's not. It's slow and plodding. The big reveals are obvious. Painfully obvious. So obvious you want to shout at the book every time a character hasn't realized them yet.

One of the plot lines involves a long series of interrogations. The problem is that we're given no reason to care about the outcome of them. We haven't come to care about the characters involved. When the interrogations resolve at the end, it's impressive from a technical perspective, I guess, but I just didn't care.

The other plot line involves an easier character about which to care. Too bad her arc is pretty poor. She gains some personal strength, but never really any awareness of her position.

Things ramp up at the end, but it's a long slog to get there. The book ends just when I was actually getting interested.

A lot of attention has been paid to the author's credentials in physics. You sure don't see them in the book. This isn't hard science fiction. There's a little about black holes, but nothing I couldn't have detailed myself. The basics of black holes aren't esoteric knowledge anymore. Parts of the technology are simply anachronistic. This is supposed to take place on a space ship so advanced they've hidden it away, yet there's some really old technology that won't be used here on Earth all that much longer, much less in space in the future.

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Three-Body Problem Review

Posted: Wednesday September 30 2015 @ 6:36pm

Religious Order: Books

The Three-Body Problem - Liu Cixin, Ken Liu (Translation)

I read this Hugo-winner last year, so I'm writing this from an increasingly unreliable memory. It's also gonna be short.

Parts of this book I really loved, parts I really didn't.

The cultural aspects were gripping. You don't usually see this side of China in science fiction. I loved following the political machinations.

The actual science-fiction seemed dated and derivative. The virtual realities seemed like Gibsonesque 80s cyberpunk. The alien reveal wasn't much of a surprise, nor did it feel innovative.

Some of this is undoubtedly due to the translation and my unfamiliarity with Chinese literature, but the science-fiction parts read how older movies with bad CGI look. It was a little like watching The Lawnmower Man, only with compelling characters.

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Fun With 3D Printing

Posted: Thursday September 17 2015 @ 6:47pm

Religious Order: Toys

So, let's talk a little about comics. I had been getting a little bored with my pull-sheet and shook things up. (This will get around to 3D printing. Just hold on.) I stopped any of my usual books that no longer thrilled me and added a bunch of women-centric ones, be it creators or protagonists. Frankly, it's rekindled my love of comics. That's where much of the intersting stuff is happening.

Easily my favorite is The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. It's goofy, fun, and hilarious. I'm also a long-time Squirrel Girl fan. The most recent issue involved Asgard. Loki offered to do impressions and Cat Thor was requested. Loki spent most of the remaining pages dressed as Thor, with a huge cat head. It was glorious! At one point, he struck down a foe with his mighty hammer Mewnir! Mewnir is Mjolnir, with cat ears and a cat face drawn on one of the long faces of the hammer.

Here's where we get to the 3D printing. I was pushing up against a work deadline, and was feeling a little fried. So I took a bit of a break and whipped up a 3D model of Mewnir, suitable for 3D printing. I tossed it up on Tumblr, brought it to the attention of the creators of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, and was rewarded with a couple hundred notes, which is a couple hundred more notes than posts of mine usually garner.

I also ordered myself a few Mewnirs from Shapeways, to make sure the model actually worked. It did!

To be honest, the facial features get a little lost in the graininess of the objects. My solution was to color the raised features just a bit. At first, I was going to try some paint Sharpies. I've used them before on 3D printed objects. The problems are that the paint spreads a little too much and one wrong move indelibly marks a piece.

My solution was to get some colored pencils, which worked great. It was fairly easy to just color the raised sections, which made them stand out much better.

So I set up a Tumblr blog solely for Mewnir-related information as well as a web page on the blog site with links to all the STL files and related pages on Shapeways.

The next step? Order one in steel, to use as a pendant! Luckily, Shapeways had a sale on metal a couple days back, so I ordered one!

(Although someone else has already done the pendant thing with some plastic ones.)

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Probability Space Review

Posted: Tuesday September 15 2015 @ 6:12pm

Religious Order: Books

Probability Space - Nancy Kress

After the superb second book, I was really excited for the third. Alas, I was heavilly let down. The third book abandons the one of the dual plotlines from the first two. Folks go to World, but they don't really do anything there. There's really nothing for them to do. The book just wanders away from the place.

I really thought what would happen here is that World would return to its earlier state. (I'm trying to avoid spoilers here.) There are great issues of free will versus societal peace that could be explored. Hell, were crying to be explored! But they weren't explored, not at all.

Instead, the alternate plotline is some sort of coming of age story, with a young female protagonist. At first, I was fine with this. I looked forward to her slowly gaining more agency as the book went on. She never did. She was simply pushed and shoved through the plot. She has some effect on the plot near the end, but even then, it's not really her doing the driving. At the end of the book, I couldn't figure out why she was there. Did her character change? A little. She discovered boys. That's it. She didn't really become a stronger person.

Other characterizations suffered, too. Some characters seemed parodies of archetypes. It was jarring. The characters seemed much more real in the earlier books.

The final plot? Well, it was like Raiders of the Lost Ark. In the end, it didn't matter what the protagonists did. Things would have turned out pretty much the same had they all just decided to stay home. Overall, the issues get wrapped up just fine. It was a clever enough resolution, but I had little fun getting there.

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Probability Sun Review

Posted: Tuesday September 15 2015 @ 6:10pm

Religious Order: Books

Probability Sun - Nancy Kress

Okay, so I wasn't thrilled with the second Ancillary book. How about the second Probability book?

Oh, so very good. It takes all the themes from the first book and continues to explore them. We get an expanded plot regarding the war with the Fallers. We get an expanded plot regarding World. It takes evrything I loved about the first book and keeps going. It's a superb example of a second book in a trilogy. It goes somewhere, somewhere important, expanding on the first book, while it sets up for resolution in the final book.

Speaking of the final book...

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Ancillary Sword Review

Posted: Tuesday September 15 2015 @ 6:03pm

Religious Order: Books

Ancillary Sword - Ann Leckie

The second in the Imperial Radch trilogy (series?) was okay, but disappointing in many ways. Most of the cool things from the first book are missing here, but there's nothing new to replace them. We do get some insight into Radch society, but we lose the delicious interaction with non-Radch society from the first book. Also gone, by necessity I know, is the ancillary multiple-first-person perspective that was the showcase of the first book.

That basically leaves the plot, and the plot is weak in terms of the trilogy. It's fine as a standalone book, but it seems petty and small in view of the overall story arc. The fuller trilogy story arc doesn't seem to move along any. In terms of the trilogy, we're basically killing time.

Maybe if the first book hadn't had so many sweet aspects, then this one would look better.

I'm still looking forward to the the third book.

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Body Integrity

Posted: Tuesday September 15 2015 @ 5:47pm

Religious Order: Politics

I recently ran across a pro-choice argument I hadn't seen before. It's a really good one and shows how the pro-life crowd isn't really trying to protect innocent little babies but is really all about controlling women.

Here's it in a nutshell: Other than with abortion, we don't violate the body integrity of other people. We simply don't, regardless of the effect that might have on other lives. People have full control over their own bodies, regardless.

Here are some examples. If I had a kid, who was dying of kidney failure, we would not, as a society, force me to donate a kidney, even if I was the only possible donor and would survive with only one. This is despite the fact that the kid would die in due order without the transplant and the fact that the kid is obviously a full sentient human being.

Wait, it gets better. If I had a kid who was dying and in need of a bone marrow transplant, and I was the only match, society still wouldn't force that marrow out of me. It's not even a permanent personal loss, like a kidney. I'll create more marrow to replace what is taken. Still, my right to do what I want with my own body overrides the needs of other fully sentient human beings.

But wait, it gets better! If my kid was in need of a blood transfusion, would die without it, and I was the only match available in time, society still wouldn't legally force me to give up the blood. Society might hate me, and rightfully so. Society might shun me. But my refusal wouldn't be illegal. Despite the utterly transient nature of giving blood, we still wouldn't make me give it up.

No, wait, we can go further! My kid could be literally dying for an organ transplant, and I could have just died and be the only match. They still couldn't take my organs without my prior consent or the consent of my legal representation. I'm fucking dead! I have no use for the organs! But we take body integrity so seriously that the kid would die before society legally decided that the kid's life overrode my right to decide what happens to my body.

Unless I'm female and pregnant. Then suddenly society thinks it has a say. Suddenly a wee clump of cells is the overriding concern.

If that sounds like fucking bullshit, it's because it's fucking bullshit.

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