A Book By Its Cover: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

24 Sep

From Karel Čapek’s R.U.R. to Daniel H. Wilson’s Robopocalypse to Matt “Grim-Dark” Groening’s upcoming Futurama X-Treme, the standard script for science fiction featuring artificial intelligence (AI) has been machine rising up against humanity. This theme reached its artistic pinnacle in 1953 with the widely acclaimed masterpiece Robot Monster from noted auteur Phil Tucker, a cinematic disciple of Bresson and Ozu. The plot should be as obsolete as MS-DOS 4.0. Yet, authors and Hollywood writers all keep going back to the robot production factory for ideas.

The fear inherent in this fiction has historically accompanied each technological development; with each increase in technology’s power and reach, so goes the fear. Recently, both Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk voiced concerns and warnings regarding AI. Yes, it is true that Hawking and Musk are both usually known for lunatic ramblings, but their warning here does seem logical and warranted.

One doesn’t even have to look too far for evidence: The owners of this site have publicly advocated for robot goblin uprisings, and have even initiated funding drives to make their horrific visions a reality! Also, a prominent member of the Skiffy & Fanty team has a position with a publishing house that it apparently run by a group of irate automatons. Sure, they are just publishing books now, but have you seen the thickness of some of those books? They are like blunt weapons. Blunt weapons easily grasped in the claws of an angry robot. Continue reading

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Book Review: Doctor Potter’s Medicine Show by Eric Scott Fischl

22 Sep

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union, a real-life organization that lends a bit of background color to Doctor Potter’s Medicine Show, might have found this novel an effective bit of ammo in their arsenal against the evils of Demon Rum, Wicked Whiskey, Sinful Ginful, etc. They would probably have found it an appalling actual read, but it might have served better than their marching around with signs and their uplifting sermons and their heartfelt testimonials ever did. The descriptions of the unpleasantness of actually being drunk, of addiction, of the consequences of a drinking binge (both social and biological), and of just how nasty a bottle of rotgut can taste and smell, will surely make many a reader look askance at the next cocktail proffered him or her.*

I doubt, though, that Eric Scott Fischl wrote with this aim in mind as he brought these desperate characters together in this diabolical plot. After all, alcohol is not anyone’s biggest problem in his version of Oregon and Idaho in the late 1870s. Continue reading

Retro Childhood Review: Peter and the Wolf

21 Sep Peter and the Wolf Coloring Book Cover from 1947

Each character of this tale is represented by a corresponding instrument in the orchestra: the bird by a flute, the duck by an oboe, the cat by a clarinet playing staccato in a low register, the grandfather by a bassoon, the wolf by three horns, Peter by the string quartet, the shooting of the hunters by the kettle drums and bass drum.

As I was driving home the other day, my local classical radio station played a recording of the Colorado Symphony’s orchestration of the symphony that made me fall in love with classical music when I was just a tiny little child. Whether I first heard this at my hippie community college preschool program or at home, I have no idea. I do know that my mother, a kindergarten teacher, was a firm believer in music education and we had oodles of children’s books that came with narrated tapes. But the one that has stuck with me after all these years is Sergei Prokofiev’s 1936 symphony, Peter and the Wolf (which you can listen to here).
Continue reading

Book Review: All Good Things by Emma Newman

20 Sep

I was introduced to the writing and the work of Emma Newman by means of Between Two Thorns, an urban fantasy novel. I don’t normally read much urban fantasy as a general rule, but I was taken by the small stories Newman wrote in support of the novel and that world, and by the writer herself when she came all the way from the U.K. to attend a local convention here in Minneapolis. I was enchanted by her writing and her personality, and resolved to read all of her work henceforth.

That decision led me to read more of the Split Worlds, as the series has come to be called,  so I read Any Other Name and All is Fair, the second and third books in the series. When Newman, in conjunction with her husband, started Tea and Jeopardy, what is now a Hugo award-winning podcast, I started consuming that as well. Other writing efforts took the author’s time, and I started to read those wonderful SF efforts as well. Continue reading

Signal Boost #19: A Conversation about SFF Canon

19 Sep

On today’s Signal Boost, Jen remembers that we have a listener suggestion form, and so we FINALLY talk about the questions that one intrepid listener is dying to know! Actually, it’s mostly Shaun talking about the answers while Jen nods sagely. What are those questions? Well, listen to the episode and you too will know the truth about SFF canon. Or at least Shaun’s version of the truth. Especially since the conclusion we come to is that basically we all get to make our own canon. So, HA!

After Shaun is all done ranting talking about canon, we get to our Mini-Boosts!

We hope you enjoy the episode!

Note:  If you have iTunes and like this show, please give us a review on our iTunes page, or feel free to email us with your thoughts about the show!

Here’s the episode (show notes are below): Continue reading

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